Luiz Felipe Scolari was given a dramatic introduction to the FA Cup as his Premier League giants were held to a 1-1 draw by League One side Southend United at Stamford Bridge on Saturday.
The Blues, second in the top flight, had looked to be cruising into the fourth round until Peter Clarke headed the Shrimpers, who play in the third-tier of English soccer, level in injury-time.
Chelsea, who had lost ground to Liverpool in the Premier League in recent weeks after draws with West Ham United, Everton and Fulham, took a first-half lead thanks to Saloman Kalou’s header.
And they squandered chance after chance to leave manager Scolari nursing another headache.
It was Chelsea who had the first shot at goal through Frank Lampard, but the England midfielder’s free-kick was way off target.
But it proved to be an early warning sign for Southend of things to come as Joe Cole’s incisive pass almost played in Didier Drogba.
The France striker was then denied a clear shot on goal in the ninth minute by an excellent recovery tackle from Osei Sankofa.
Joe Cole and Lampard had further chances to break the deadlock, all within the opening 15 minutes.
Chelsea, however, continued to squander their chances. Ashley Cole had a clear shot at goal, yet fired at Steve Mildenhall, while Drogba poked another effort wide of the post from 8m out.
It was only a matter of time before the pressure told and Kalou made it count when he headed in from Lampard’s corner in the 31st minute.
In the second half, Southend continued to work hard and enjoyed a good spell of possession.
They passed the ball around neatly at times, but too often lost their concentration at the crucial time.
While their attackers could be accused of losing their focus, the same could not be said of Southend’s defense.
Wave after wave of Chelsea pressure would have taken its toll on Premier League defenders, but still the Shrimpers — led by captain Adam Barrett — kept them at bay.
United defender Clarke came close to an equalizer when he connected with Herd’s cross in the 84th minute, but his header agonizingly dropped onto the crossbar and bounced over.
Chelsea failed to heed that warning and minutes later Clarke was on target with a header to earn Southend a replay and leave Chelsea regretting their missed opportunities.