Hull 1 – 1 Chelsea
By Sam Lyon
Hull City produced a manful performance to hold Chelsea to a surprise draw as the title hopefuls missed the chance to take their league lead to four points.
The Londoners were lacklustre to say the least, but that was down in no small part to Hull’s brave approach.
And it was the hosts who took the lead when Steven Mouyokolo headed home.
Didier Drogba marked his return from Africa Cup of Nations duty with the equaliser from a free-kick, but Hull comfortably held on to a precious draw.
It was no less than the hosts deserved from an all-action display and even though the result was not enough to move them out of the bottom three, it could provide a welcome fillip as they enter the crucial stages of their battle against relegation.
We more than competed – Brown
Chelsea, meanwhile, can comfort themselves with the knowledge they go two points clear of Manchester United and six of Arsenal at the top of the table.
Boss Carlo Ancelotti will surely consider this a missed opportunity, though, especially with a home match against the Gunners to come on Sunday.
The Gunners’ comprehensive defeat to United at the weekend looked to have turned the race for the Premier League title into a two-horse race, especially with Chelsea widely expected to move on to 57 points from 24 games with victory at the KC Stadium.
On paper, it looked a straightforward task. Six straight wins in which they have scored 21 goals and conceded only four marked Chelsea out as clear favourites against a Hull side without a win in nine.
But the hosts’ disciplined and forceful approach, typified – as so often – by Stephen Hunt, stultified a Chelsea side far from their best.
The title chasers did have two good efforts in the first half hour; Frank Lampard forced a smart stop from Boaz Myhill with a dipping 20-yarder, while Michael Ballack tamely headed Branislav Ivanovic’s superb cross from the right straight at the keeper.
However, they were only the briefest glimpses of the visitors’ quality as they failed to get out of first gear in the face of Hull’s high-tempo tactics.
It was testament to the hosts’ first-half play that it was no great surprise when they took the lead, and even less so that it was from a set-piece.
Of the 19 league goals Chelsea have conceded this season before the game, 14 had come from set-pieces, and the visitors struggled to deal with Hull’s dead-ball situations throughout.
And Mouyokolo took full advantage on the half hour as he headed home Hunt’s corner unmarked from six yards out.
Ancelotti positive at top spot
It served only to prompt a response from Chelsea, though, as they finally snapped out of their malaise long enough to equalise through Drogba’s pin-point free-kick from the edge of the box.
Any expectations that Hull would sink into their shell were wide of the mark, though.
They continued to threaten from set plays, Anthony Gardner and Jozy Altidore both guilty of profligacy in front of goal from well directed Hunt deliveries.
Myhill kept the scores level at the other end, sprawling one way and then the other to stop headers from Drogba and John Terry, booed throughout following press revelations about his private life, in quick succession.
And that meant, with 15 minutes left, the match was finely in the balance.
However, a grand assault from the visitors never even looked like coming, their final ball and incision in front of goal – as it had been all throughout the match – absent.
With the away fans streaming for the exits there was at least a fine effort from substitute Daniel Sturridge, his left-footed shot tipped round the post by Myhill.
But it was too little, too late from Chelsea, who will be desperate for an improved performance against Arsenal knowing the title race once again looks to be a three-horse race.
Hull manager Phil Brown:
“We went 1-0 up and I was disappointed with the goal we conceded. Then you’ve got the second half and you’ve got to defend valiantly which we did.
“But we played some great football too, we put them under pressure – no doubt about it. We fully deserved a point and maybe even all three.”