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Hammers dent Chelsea title hopes

AGONY: Samuel Eto'o rues another chance going begging (PA)

WHEN THE final whistle went Jose Mourinho cut the most frustrated figure inside Stamford Bridge knowing his side had dropped two points against West Ham and missed a chance to catch up with Arsenal and Manchester City at the top.

Hammers boss Sam Allardyce came to west London with a plan – to shut out the hosts, and it worked like a charm, right into the dying seconds when his keeper made a last ditch save to deny Frank Lampard’s goalbound effort.

At times it appeared the visitors were employing a 9-0-1 formation with Andy Carroll stuck up front to pick up any hoofed clearances.

Chelsea came close on several occasions, particularly Oscar’s shot in the first 10 minutes that struck the crossbar, but in truth Mourinho will be bitterly disappointed his men were unable to breach the Hammers’ backline.

The Blues have been busy in the transfer window, buying Nemanja Matic and Mohamed Salah, while saying goodbye to Juan Mata. Yet this game was proof that Chelsea are crying out for a lethal striker that only needs one chance to find the net.

If the west London club had any one of Man City’s forwards for this game, then it would be a safe bet that Chelsea would have finished the evening with a comfortable three points.

However, the efforts of Samuel Eto’o and late cameo from Demba Ba showed the hosts are really lacking cutting edge, despite the array of creative midfield talent in support.

Allardyce’s men kept danger man Eden Hazard under close watch, and the Belgium winger, who one day wants to emulate the likes of Leo Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, could not find that extra bit of magic to unlock a stubborn defence that packed bodies in front of goal.

It was easy to lose count of the times Chelsea players fashioned an inch of space to shoot only for the effort to be blocked by a claret and blue shirt. If a shot did manage to find its way through then the keeper always did enough.

Petr Cech was practically a spectator from Chelsea’s goal – West Ham offered no threat. Carroll was eager to impose himself physically, but he was isolated and had no decent supply.

The home side lacked urgency in the first-half, it almost seemed like they were assuming a goal would come.

But none did, and as the minutes crept by in the second 45, Mourinho looked more and more desperate to see his team score.

The Portuguese boss gambled by making a double substitution midway through the second period, bringing on Lampard and Matic for John Obi Mikel and Cesar Azpilicueta, and changed formation from 4-3-3 to 3-4-3.

It gave Chelsea more bite going forward, but the Hammers remained strong enough to not concede.

Perhaps it was a game calling out for the talents of Mata, a player who can thread the tightest balls through to create something from nothing. Nonetheless, what was more apparent was the dire need for Chelsea to have a confident striker in a goalscoring mood.

It looks like the title is City’s to lose – they cannot stop scoring goals with the wealth of strikers at their disposal.

Mourinho keeps on saying Chelsea are not favourites to win the league, and it looks like staying that way unless the Blues get some new blood up front.

In the away dugout, Big Sam must have been delighted with the point, the best he could have hoped for. He had a game plan, his men stuck to it, and he saw his side of limited talent end the night on parity with opponents who will rue firing a blank.

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