Blues rhythym hit by hammers
LONDON - FRANK Lampard survived a bizarre intervention from referee Mike Dean to score a penalty at the third attempt which gave Chelsea a hard-fought 1-1 draw at West Ham yesterday.
Dean made Lampard take his second half spot-kick three times after ruling out the former West Ham midfielder's two previous successfully converted efforts for encroachment.
The fussy refereeing couldn't overshadow another unconvincing display from Carlo Ancelotti's side, who trailed to Alessandro Diamanti's first half penalty and have now won just once in their last six matches in all competitions.
While Lampard's penalty extended Chelsea's lead over second-placed Manchester United to four points, this was a missed opportunity for the Blues to take advantage of the champions' shock defeat at Fulham 24 hours earlier.
West Ham had lost their last three matches, with their 3-1 midweek defeat at Bolton a particularly dispiriting result. But Gianfranco Zola's determined outfit never let the leaders get into their stride and deservedly avoided going into the Christmas programme bottom of the table.
Ancelotti was able to restore Didier Drogba to his attack after the Ivory Coast striker missed the midweek win over Portsmouth with a back injury, while Nicolas Anelka was absent with a muscle strain.
It was no surprise to see Lampard test West Ham goalkeeper Robert Green early on after the England star's costly error at Bolton but he was equal to the swerving drive.
Although Chelsea had made a bright start, they found it increasingly hard to dictate the tempo as midfield duo Parker and Mark Noble began to hassle the Blues out of their usual rhythm.
They went close to taking the lead when Parker's pass to Herita Ilunga sliced open the Chelsea rearguard.
Zola's side were growing in confidence by the minute and another slick move broke the deadlock on the stroke of half-time.
Guillermo Franco's clever pass gave Collison the chance to burst into penalty area and he got ahead of Ashley Cole, whose rash lunge sent the young midfielder sprawling.
Dean awarded a penalty and Diamanti stepped up to send Cech the wrong way for his fourth goal of the season.
The Blues also needed more from Drogba, who had been subdued in the first half.
He finally sparked into life with a dipping volley from the tightest of angles that whistled past Green's far post.
That near-miss seemed to galvanise Chelsea and they drew level in bizarre circumstances in the 61st minute.
Sturridge embarked on a powerful run and found Lampard, who returned a pass to the young striker inside the penalty area. Matthew Upson slid across to challenge and appeared to make contact with the ball but Dean pointed to the penalty spot after the linesman flagged.
Upson was booked for his protests but Dean wasn't ready to relinquish centre-stage just yet.
As Lampard drove his penalty past Green several players encroached into the area and Dean ruled that the kick had to be taken again.
Once again Lampard beat Green from the spot, only for Dean to notice more encroachment and demand a third kick.
Lampard was remarkably unfazed and side-footed past Green again and this time Dean was finally satisfied. - AFP