English Premier League leaders Chelsea had to be content with a point on Saturday as they were held to a 0-0 draw at battling Sunderland.
Jose Mourinho’s side increased their advantage at the top of the table to seven points thanks to a 13th league game without a defeat, stretching their unbeaten start to the season to 20 games in the process.
But they left the Stadium of Light frustrated at being unable to press home their territorial advantage against the hardworking hosts, who drew for the eighth time this campaign.
Gus Poyet’s side remain the last team to beat Chelsea in the Premier League, a 2-1 victory at Stamford Bridge more than seven months ago.
It proved an eventful evening for Diego Costa, the Blues’ star striker, who was lucky not to be sent off as the Spaniard earned a second-half caution after being fortunate to escape a yellow card at the end of the first-half.
Mourinho wisely substituted his 12-goal top scorer, who will be suspended for Wednesday’s Premier League visit by Tottenham after his fifth booking of the campaign.
Despite enjoying the lion’s share of the ball for the entire contest, the unchanged visitors were made to work hard by Poyet’s side, who hit the bar just before the break as Santiago Vergini latched onto Lee Cattermole’s pass to send a first-time effort against the woodwork from close range.
That came after the frame of the goal had also denied Chelsea, as Willian broke through to see his low skidding effort hit the foot of the post from 20 yards.
Willian was at the heart of most of his side’s good work, and it was his ball that put in Branislav Ivanovic from a narrow angle early on.
The fast-raiding fullback’s low shot was destined for the bottom corner of the goal until Sunderland keeper Costel Pantilimon stuck out a leg to divert the ball wide.
An at-times tetchy contest all got too much for Mauricio Taricco and as half-time approached, the Sunderland coach was banished from the dugout to the stands by referee Kevin Friend for his overly robust sideline protests as the Black Cats were denied three free-kicks in quick succession.
Despite chasing shadows for much of the first-half, Sunderland stuck to their task.
Strikers Steven Fletcher and Connor Wickham both went close with half-chances, before recalled midfielder Jack Rodwell, Sunderland’s only change, tried his luck from distance. Thibaut Courtois, the Chelsea goalkeeper, was easily up to the task.
As half-time approached, Costa inexplicably escaped censure, when the striker kicked out at John O’Shea after going to ground in a tussle with the Sunderland skipper, the Spaniard grateful for Friend’s leniency after an ugly studs-up lunge at the Irishman.
The interval failed to halt Chelsea’s momentum, and Gary Cahill should have put them ahead straight after the restart, but the England defender headed Willian’s pinpoint corner straight at Pantilimon from six yards under pressure from O’Shea and Wes Brown.
Willian was then inches away from grabbing a spectacular opener when the Brazilian jinked his way past Anthony Reveillere to fire just wide from 20 yards with Pantilimon beaten.
Costa finally made his way into Friend’s book, when his trailing arm accidentally caught Brown in the face to earn a fifth caution of the season, his last notable contribution before being withdrawn.
Pantilimon held a Nemanja Matic long-range effort at the second attempt in a scare for Sunderland.
However, the hosts remained a threat on the counterattack, and Courtois had to be alert to hold onto a snap-shot from Wickham as the forward tried his luck form the edge of the area.
Substitute Jozy Altidore and Adam Johnson, both wasted late half-chances for the hosts, who finished the stronger.
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