THE petrol shortage has been averted but Chelsea have still run out of gas nearing the last lap of their marathon season.Roberto Di Matteo’s flagging stars just about did enough to return to the Premier League’s top five and close the gap on third-placed Spurs.
But they needed an outrageous helping hand from blundering linesman Dave Bryan to claim an ill-deserved three points.
Branislav Ivanovic was one of TWO Chelsea players in an offside position when he scored from Raul Meireles’ 62nd-minute through ball. Even Juan Mata’s injury-time winner could not disguise the fact that Blues had got away with murder.
No wonder the entire Wigan team surrounded referee Mike Jones and his myopic assistant as sheepish Ivanovic celebrated his ill-gotten gains. For this was a defeat Roberto Martinez’s struggling team most certainly did not deserve as they fight for survival.
And while flagging Chelsea were running on empty at the final whistle, Wigan headed home fuelled by a burning sense of injustice as they reflected on the loss of a priceless point. With 93 minutes on the Stamford Bridge clock, Wigan were set to climb to 16th place in the Premier League and out of the relegation zone for the first time this year.
But Fernando Torres smashed Didier Drogba’s deep cross against the far post and Mata bundled the rebound in with his knee.
It was a bitter pill for Wigan to swallow after they had fought back to level terms from bungler Bryan’s unforgivable cock-up.
Sub Mohamed Diame was convinced he had rescued a magnificent draw when he rifled home an 82nd-minute equaliser after Ryan Bertrand allowed him to turn on the edge of the area. Yet all Wigan’s hard work was to prove in vain when Mata struck with virtually the last kick of a curious match.
The visitors’ commitment, work-rate and effort were in stark contrast to Chelsea’s half-hearted showing.
This was the kind of ponderous performance that got Andre Villas-Boas the sack.
Even the seven changes made to the team which beat Benfica did not explain such a display.
It was hard to believe Chelsea were supposed to be fighting for every point to claw their way back into the top four.
What is certain is that Barcelona boss Pep Guardiola won’t be losing too much sleep when he gets round to watching the tape of this match. In fact, it will probably send him into the land of nod.
It just about says it all that for most of the first half Chelsea fans were relying on a pigeon grazing undisturbed in Wigan’s penalty-area for their entertainment.
The feathered intruder was briefly ruffled when Gary Cahill’s ambitious long-range drive forced a flying save from Wigan keeper Ali Al Habsi. And Didier Drogba should have done better when he muscled James McArthur off the ball but shot wide.
In fact, Chelsea’s first sustained pressure did not arrive until the 38th minute.
Mata’s shot was blocked by Al Habsi and Maynor Figueroa cleared Drogba’s follow-up header off the line.
The Wigan keeper was back to his best on the stroke of half-time when he clawed away another Drogba header.
It was proving far easier for the visitors than it should have against a team in the last four of the Champions League and FA Cup.
But poor old Martinez had not reckoned on the inadequacies of referee’s assistant Bryan, who would have been squirming with embarrassment when he watched Ivanovic’s strike on Match of the Day last night. To add insult to Wigan’s injury, it was Ivanovic who threw himself across goal to clear off the line from Franco Di Santo just two minutes after his breakthrough goal.
The Serbian international defender has proved a real pillar of strength for Chelsea in recent weeks.
But not many of his team-mates emerged with credit from this display and Di Matteo admits that his team are starting to feel the pace after winning eight of their 10 games since he took over from AVB last month.
The problem is that not enough of his shadow squad are good enough to step up to the plate when the superstars are given a rest.
But with a West London derby at Fulham tomorrow followed by Spurs, Barcelona, Arsenal in the league and then Barcelona again, there is no time for Chelsea to put their feet up.
Chelsea: Cech, Ivanovic, Cahill, Luiz, Bertrand, Meireles, Essien (Mikel 74), Sturridge (Kalou 83), Mata, Malouda (Torres 59), Drogba. Subs Not Used: Turnbull, Romeu, Bosingwa, Ferreira. Booked: Essien, Malouda. Goals: Ivanovic 62, Mata 90.
Wigan: Al Habsi, Alcaraz, Caldwell, Figueroa, Boyce, McCarthy, McArthur (Diame 71), Beausejour (Ben Watson 71), Moses, Di Santo (Sammon 79), Maloney. Subs Not Used: Kirkland, Crusat, Gomez, Stam. Booked: Maloney, Figueroa. Goals: Diame 82.
Ref: Mike Jones (Cheshire).
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