Fulham condemns Chelsea to third straight 1-1 draw
Updated: December 26, 2011, 12:09
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LONDON(AP) Chelsea has all but given up on its Premier League title hopes after Clint Dempsey's equalizer for Fulham condemned its west London rival to a third consecutive 1-1 draw on Monday.
Almost halfway through his first season in charge, Andre Villa-Boas' side is now 11 points behind the pacesetters - Manchester rivals City and United.
"Maybe the Premier League is over for us at the moment,'' Villas-Boas said. "We'd targeted the December fixtures as an ideal situation to find out what would happen in the Premier League ... you cannot live under false expectations when the gap is this big.''
Reeling from its heaviest home loss for more than 40 years, Fulham captured a point by managing to score just its fifth away goal this season despite having strikers Bobby Zamora and Andy Johnson both ruled out with injuries.
Bryan Ruiz tricked his way past Chelsea left back Ashley Cole and crossed to Dempsey, who stabbed the ball past Peter Cech in the 57th minute.
Before Dempsey's ninth goal of the season, the second half had started well for fourth-place Chelsea with the deadlock broken inside two minutes.
Fernando Torres, on his first league start for almost two months, failed to control Cole's cross but the ball fell perfectly for Juan Mata to sweep home left footed from the edge of the penalty area.
The draw also left Chelsea just two points ahead of Arsenal, which hosts Wolverhampton Wanderers on Tuesday.
Facing a Fulham side that conceded five goals to Manchester United on Wednesday had seemed like the perfect chance for Chelsea to revive its flagging title aspirations.
But Fulham was a threat from early on, with Dempsey's bouncing 25-yard (meter) shot forcing an uncomfortable save from Cech and Orlando Sa seeing an effort blocked by David Luiz before wasting a great chance when he headed Stephen Kelly's cross over the bar.
But Torres was unlucky not to give Chelsea the lead when he expertly controlled Mata's cross on his chest before smashing his volley straight at David Stockdale.
Torres then robbed Brede Hangeland on the edge of the box and laid off to Daniel Sturridge to slice off target but Fulham settled down again and Mousa Dembele dragged wide after bypassing Oriol Romeu.
Although Jose Bosingwa sent in some dangerous crosses, Chelsea were struggling to produce a telling ball against what was at times a nine-man defense, with Raul Meireles and Romeu resorting to wayward potshots.
After Chelsea's lead lasted barely 10 minutes, manager Andre Villas-Boas took action just past the hour mark, hauling off Frank Lampard for Florent Malouda.
The change almost paid off when the Frenchman's backheel from John Terry's header hit the feet of Stockdale and bounced back off Malouda for a goalkick.
Villas-Boas then threw on Didier Drogba for Sturridge, but the striker failed to beat Stockdale from a tight angle after gathering a terrific long ball from Luiz while Meireles also curled a shot on the turn just past the post.
Stockdale twice denied Chelsea a late winner, tipping Meireles' header from Malouda's cross over the bar, before palming away Drogba's glance from a corner.
The English goalkeeper nearly spilt Malouda's long-range drive before making a fingertip block on Drogba's stoppage time free kick.
"Today we weren't good enough to get the three points, that was pretty clear,'' Villas-Boas said. "We created enough chances to try to win the game. We had a good second half, had a lot of good opportunities, but always collided against a brave Fulham defense or against Stockdale, who had a fantastic game.''
Torres did not, but Villas-Boas backed the striker who has not scored in the league for three months.
"He worked well for the team,'' the Portuguese manager said. "We don't judge our strikers on the score. What is important is that they make an impact. That is what we expect from them.''