Chelsea’s mid-week marathon match against United took its toll on exhausted bodies, as the boys from Wales claimed a vital point on a disappointing afternoon for the Blues.
A first goal for Victor Moses since his summer move looked to have been enough for the European Champions, but a the worn legs told two minutes before the end, with Pablo Hernandez striking home to share the spoils.
It was two points which Chelsea really could not drop. Having lost last weekend, albeit controversially, any more dropped points meant Chelsea would forfeit their pole-position standing, and with a United win earlier in the day, an anticipated temporary stay extended until at least next weekend, as Chelsea just could not deal with the boys in white, or indeed the hailstorm.
Juan Mata and David Luiz both were physically drained after Wednesday night’s exhaustions, and Roberto Di Matteo had to experiment, especially with a crucial midweek game in the Champions League.
Romeu kept his place, with Ivanovic and Torres both back after their one-game suspension. Azpilicueta continued at right-back, with John Terry serving the last of his four-game ban.
And the lack of his leadership was evident from the off. Confusion across the back-line allowed Hernandez to pick out Michu, and uncharacteristically, the Spaniard, who has settled into the English game impeccably, could not find the target.
But with a front-line blessed with talent and power, chances had to come, and after 11 minutes, a Chelsea goal looked likely. With the home side wary of the likes of Cahill and Ivanovic, the inswinging corner was met by a near-post Fernando Torres run, and were it for a clearance off the line by Leon Britton, the away end would have erupted in delight.
For the neutrals who had come to watch a very fluid, beautiful game of football, they would have been left disappointed. Shots and chances were few and far between, and intricate passes were often short-lived, no thanks to an early soaking.
With Mata injured, this was a chance for Hazard to really steal the limelight, but passes to Torres failed to generate any goals.
An attacking substitution by Di Matteo, to replace Romeu with Ramires, certainly added extra energy to flailing legs. Still, they pressed, first with Hazard, then Torres, then a Moses header, neither to any avail.
Would it be one of those frustrating afternoons? Well, it appeared not on the hour-mark.
Chelsea, who have been so dangerous from corners, made it count this time. Gary Cahill was not picked up sufficiently, and his knock-down glanced off Victor Moses, for a rather innocuous-looking goal. Still, the away end did not care one bit: they were in front.
Then came a half-hour to endure. With the legs gone, Di Matteo opted for a more conservative approach, overwriting the “attack is the best form of defence” logic, with a more “sit back and let them attack” approach.
And how they were made to pay. Even a defensive substitution, taking Oscar off for Bertrand, could not prevent an equaliser.
Substitute Shechter carried the ball into the Chelsea penalty area, and with the defenders circling him in, his lay-off found Hernandez in space to guide the ball past Petr Cech.
A point was all it would be. Three is a requirement at the next outing. Previous managers have had a change of fortune as the winter season approaches. It remains to be seen which patch defines Di Matteo’s fate.