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Chelsea distraught as show of resolve ruined by another sucker punch as Brighton dent title hopes

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  • Chelsea
    Chelsea
    LiveTodayTomorrowvs--|
  • Pep Guardiola
    Pep Guardiola
    Former Spanish soccer coach and player
  • Thomas Tuchel
    German association football manager and former player
  • Danny Welbeck
    Danny Welbeck
    English association football player

A Manchester United old boy may just have handed the title to Pep Guardiola after Danny Welbeck came off the bench to earn Brighton a late, late point against Chelsea.

If that sounds premature, the looks on the faces of Thomas Tuchel’s players spoke volumes. Heads bowed and eyes red, they trudged towards the tunnel, knowing just how costly a result this was.

It was not only that they dropped yet more points in what has been a punishing mid-season slump. But the fact that for 91 minutes this had been a game that showcased the spirit and fortitude of the European champions in the most testing of conditions.

Despite watching Reece James and Andreas Christensen join an ever-lengthening injury list, they withstood a second-half fightback from Brighton and came within minutes of closing the gap at the top of the table to just three points, as Manchester City faced Brentford in the later kick-off.

Romelu Lukaku’s first-half header had looked like being enough in a game that, while not convincing in terms of quality from Chelsea, said much about their resolve in the face of adversity.

But when Welbeck rose above substitute Trevoh Chalobah to head Marc Cucurella’s cross into the top corner, it felt like a defeat, rather than a draw. Chelsea are at the stage where they simply cannot afford to give City any more of a head start.

Pep Guardiola had already seen Liverpool cede further ground in the title race on Tuesday night in defeat to Leicester. Now Chelsea have extended an alarming run that has seen them win just four games from their last 10 - dropping 13 points from a possible 30.

Compare that to City, who made it 10 straight wins after Wednesday’s victory against Brentford. Those are the sort of numbers the reigning champions have produced consistently under Guardiola, which is why even the narrowest of leads in the table feel like so much more in real terms.

With Chelsea hosting Liverpool on Sunday, it is now a must-win game for both teams just to ensure they are not completely cut adrift at the turn of the year.

It was yet another sucker punch for Chelsea, who have made a habit of losing the lead late on at home. Their current run began with Burnley’s 79th-minute equaliser back in November. Everton pegged them back in the 74th-minute in their previous game at Stamford Bridge before Christmas. And now Brighton in stoppage time.

In amongst those draws was Arthur Masuaku’s 87th-minute winner for West Ham at the London Stadium.

But this one will feel particularly painful for Tuchel after James went down with a hamstring injury after 28 minutes and Christensen was replaced at the break after playing through the pain barrier following a knock in the first half.

That Chelsea made it to half-time ahead was about the only positive for Tuchel after those injuries. Lukaku’s 28th-minute header from a Mason Mount corner had fired them in front to give them something to show for some positive forward play.

Cesar Azpilicueta had already hit the post following another corner, while Mount also forced a good save from Robert Sanchez at the near post.

Brighton felt aggrieved that Lukaku’s goal was allowed to stand after his elbow caught Neal Maupay in the build-up – leaving a cut on the striker’s nose – but referee Mike Dean ignored appeals.

The official was involved in another controversial incident later in the half when choosing only to book Antonio Rudiger for a two-footed challenge on Tariq Lamptey.

Replays showed the defender had both feet off the ground and did not look in control of his body, but Dean considered it a caution only.

Brighton had their chances. Adam Lallana’s powerful effort was parried by Edouard Mendy and Alexis Mac Allister forced another save from the Chelsea goalkeeper with a second half free-kick.

Bissouma then had Mendy tipping over from distance as the visitors grew in confidence. Rudiger’s last-ditch block also snuffed out a Maupay chance.

Christian Pulisic had a penalty appeal denied early in the second half, which Tuchel described as a “joke.” The Chelsea manager then sent for N’Golo Kante and the Frenchman’s arrival appeared to kill off Brighton’s onslaught as he took control of midfield.

Chelsea could have made certain of victory late on when Lukaku was blocked by Joel Veltman when through on goal. Still, it looked like they would see it through until Welbeck’s late strike.

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