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Pablo Hernandez heartbreak knocks Chelsea off the top

Sunday, 4 November 2012 - 4:00pm IST | Agency: Daily Telegraph
With verve and spirit, with resolve and dedication, and in weather fit for Swans, the home side deservedly seized a point against the champions of Europe, shifting them from the Premier League summit in the process.

Swansea 1 Chelsea 1

With verve and spirit, with resolve and dedication, and in weather fit for Swans, the home side deservedly seized a point against the champions of Europe, shifting them from the Premier League summit in the process.

Three minutes from time, Pablo Hernandez made himself a little space on the edge of the area, spotted a gap amid the maze of blue socks and coloured boots, and curled the ball right into it.

Drenched and downtrodden, Chelsea's players stared forlornly at each other. This time there was no referee to blame. Champion sides are generally the ones scoring late goals, not conceding them. In the corresponding fixture 10 months ago, they burgled a draw courtesy of an own goal in the third minute of injury time. This time, the last-gasp heartbreak was theirs.

Chelsea were not poor, exactly, but rarely did they sparkle either. Without the injured Juan Mata and David Luiz, they looked uncharacteristically short on flair. Their goal was a scrappy slice of luck from a second-half corner. No alarms yet, but after one win in four games and no clean sheets in the last six, a crack or two is beginning to appear in Roberto di Matteo's formidable edifice.

"To be honest, they didn't have any real clear chances, but they scored a quality goal," he said. "The only time we gave Hernandez a bit of space, he punished us. It is disappointing not to have hung onto our lead. Even when you are not brilliant, you need to get a result like that." The league table remains of limited concern to him. "It's a long season," he said. "We are in touch."

Still, Di Matteo's dismay was mitigated by the fact that he was finally able to talk about football again, after a week in which off-field matters have again cast their acrid shadow. In contrast to his indignation at Mark Clattenburg last weekend, he gave yesterday's referee a glowing report. "The officials were very good," he said. "Kevin Friend did very well to keep both teams calm and let the game flow. Generally our team is very good [with officials]. There has to be something really out of the ordinary for them to react."

Besides a few early boos for John Obi Mikel, the man at the centre of the Clattenburg affair, the Swansea fans were also quick to move on to more pressing matters. They were regally entertained in a taut, even first half, the two sides' identical formations creating a delicate balance in midfield. Fernando Torres had one header cleared off the line by Leon Britton, and fired another straight at Gerhard Tremmel. The Spaniard has now gone almost seven hours without a goal for club or country.

It was going to take either genius or good fortune to break the deadlock, and Chelsea benefited from the latter. Oscar's corner was nodded towards goal by Gary Cahill, took a deflection off the head of Victor Moses, and clattered in off the post.

Swansea continued to press, though without much of a product. The introduction of striker Danny Graham, though, finally gave their attacks a focal point. With Graham pushing Chelsea's centre-halves back a couple of yards, Swansea were able to find more space on the edge of the area, in the spaces manager Michael Laudrup calls 'the second line'.

With time leaking away, Ramires took his eye off Hernandez for a split second, allowing the Spaniard to make a run and latch onto Itay Schechter's lay-off. His shot was low and perfectly placed.

"A team like Chelsea have a lot of quality," said Laudrup. "When they get in front, you know it is going to be difficult. I really thought we had a chance until the last second. I think it was a deserved point."

 




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