Clint Dempsey’s last-gasp equalizer dented Chelsea’s English Premier League title hopes as hosts Fulham came back to earn a 2-2 draw in an exciting west London derby at Craven Cottage on Sunday.
After hitting the opener, the US international headed in his second goal of the game in the 89th minute to cancel out two Frank Lampard strikes and leave Chelsea three points behind leaders Liverpool.
Midfielder Dempsey put the Cottagers ahead in the 10th minute, capitalizing on some sloppy defending.
Lampard leveled in the 50th minute following a Fulham defensive blunder and the England international scored what looked to be a winning free-kick in the 72nd minute.
However, Dempsey nodded a goal from a corner two minutes from time.
Chelsea beat Fulham 2-1 on New Year’s Day 12 months ago in Roy Hodgson’s first game as manager of the Cottagers, but they have since been transformed from relegation fodder to a steady mid-table side.
Hodgson, in changes to the team that held Tottenham to a goalless draw on Friday, brought in Brede Hangeland for defender Chris Baird while Dickson Etuhu replaced injured Jimmy Bullard in midfield.
Meanwhile, Chelsea boss Luiz Felipe Scolari dropped Nicolas Anelka and Michael Ballack to the bench in favor of midfielders Florent Malouda and Deco following their 2-0 home win over West Bromwich Albion at Stamford Bridge on Friday.
Lampard and lone striker Didier Drogba both failed to make the most of early chances and the visitors were made to pay in the 10th minute.
Following a foul by Alex on Andrew Johnson, Wales midfielder Simon Davies curled in a free-kick that eluded Chelsea’s defenders. Dempsey, wide of the far post, took the ball on his chest before flicking it behind him and past Blues goalkeeper Petr Cech from a meter out.
Drogba came agonizingly close to equalizing in the 19th minute, the Ivory Coast striker’s shot trickling across the face of goal.
Scolari had seen enough and brought on Anelka for Malouda to boost the Blues’ attack and the France forward immediately belted a fierce shot from distance that rebounded off Mark Schwarzer’s legs.
Scolari then made another substitution, Ricardo Carvalho coming on for the limping Alex in defense.
Lampard fired a low effort wide in the 39th minute and forced Australia goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer to parry over the crossbar with a hard shot two minutes before the interval.
Chelsea started the second half in determined mood and finally got their equalizer through a Cottagers mix-up.
Deco knocked the ball over the top for Drogba, who played it on. Schwarzer rushed out and collided with defender Aaron Hughes, leaving Lampard with a simple tap-in.
It was only the second goal Fulham had conceded in seven matches.
Joe Cole forced Schwarzer into an excellent low save in the 66th minute and John Pantsil fired just wide for Fulham at the other end a minute later.
Scolari threw on striker Salomon Kalou in place of Joe Cole with 18 minutes to go, but it was Lampard who scored Chelsea’s second. His dipping free-kick went through a gap in the wall and though the ball was close to Schwarzer, he failed to deal with the midfielder’s effort.
However, it was Dempsey who had the last laugh, heading a late Davies corner clean past Cech.
English Premier League
Team P GD PTS
1 Liverpool 20 22 45
2 Chelsea 20 31 42
3 Man Utd 17 18 35