Chelsea failed to end a dismal run without a win but some of their energy, pace and shape returned at White Hart Lane
Chelsea gave just about everything Carlo Ancelotti could have demanded today, except for a decent penalty kick from Didier Drogba to win the game in stoppage time and take them back to the top of the table. But since the great Ivorian, who came on as a half-time substitute, had already scored the sort of goal that only the strongest and most powerful strikers can pull off, the manager would be unlikely to direct too many complaints in his direction.
In normal circumstances Frank Lampard, Chelsea's penalty specialist, would have taken the kick. The England midfielder, however, had been on the pitch for only a quarter of an hour after coming on to make his first appearance since the end of August, and did not feel confident enough, according to Ancelotti. Drogba stepped up, but produced a shot that would only have looked good had Heurelho Gomes guessed wrong and gone the other way.
Although Harry Redknapp complained afterwards about an alleged handball leading up to Drogba's second-half equaliser, the striker had controlled Petr Cech's high punt with the top of his shoulder – an offence is said to have been committed if it touches anywhere from the tip of the finger to the top of the arm – and showed a marvellous sharpness to spin on to his own assist while Michael Dawson, otherwise excellent on his return, was still trying to work out where the ball and the opponent had gone. The left-foot volley with which Drogba dispatched the bouncing ball was fierce enough to blast its way through the goalkeeper's attempted parry.
On paper, the result continues the west London club's failure to register a Premier League victory since Roman Abramovich took the bizarre and still unexplained decision to sack Ray Wilkins on 11 November. After losing to Sunderland and Birmingham City, the result today completed a hat-trick of league draws begun against Newcastle United and Everton. "This is not good," Ancelotti said, "but I think there's a long race this year. It's a Premier League with a lot of balance and a lot of teams involved in trying to win the title."
Only a point covers the top four, but a victory for Manchester United over Arsenal at Old Trafford tomorrow night would put them two points ahead of the field, with a game in hand. United travel to Stamford Bridge on Sunday for a meeting which may become the most crucial of the first half of the season, and Ancelotti was glad to report that he expects to have Lampard available to start the match.
In the build-up to today's fixture he had admitted that his side have been lacking the combination of energy, pace and shape which has characterised their counterattacking game since the arrival of José Mourinho. The Portuguese manager made a fetish of the art of transition, both from attack to defence and from defence to attack. Position and speed were the vital elements of their success in sweeping aside opponents less well prepared, physically and tactically.
In recent weeks, by comparison, they have seemed sluggish and unimaginative, suggesting to some observers that the decision to sell Deco, Joe Cole and Ricardo Carvalho was as much of a factor as injuries to Lampard, Drogba and John Terry, while the residual effect of Mourinho's drilling might have finally been wearing off. Today, however, they showed that most of the missing qualities – except, perhaps, imaginative unpredictability – have merely been lying dormant.
Ancelotti said he had left Drogba on the bench in order to give the team the chance to take advantage of Nicolas Anelka's speed on the counterattack, and in the opening minutes it seemed to be paying off as Chelsea had Tottenham's defenders straining to repel a series of lightning raids. When Roman Pavlyuchenko scored a very good goal after a quarter of an hour, it was distinctly against the run of play.
Spurs, it turned out, would be the team destined to do most of their attacking on the counter, while Chelsea pressed and pressed and pressed some more, forcing the entire Tottenham back four - and particularly Dawson, an emergency selection for his first match since 3 September - to the very extreme of resolve and resilience.
While Spurs were defending their lead, and long before Drogba equalised in the 70th minute, Terry was looking for opportunities to break forward and add extra weight to his side's goalscoring threat. Several times in both halves he started moves on the edge of his own area and charged up into the centre-forward position without reward. He also produced a majestic last-ditch tackle on Aaron Lennon, bettered only by Alan Hutton's superlative effort on Ramires.
Terry did not look like a man with a bad back, any more than Chelsea resembled a team whose morale has gone. They are now a squad in whom the relentless fanfares drown the grace notes, which may not be to the taste of an owner who appears to yearn for the sort of beauty that will have his friends flocking to watch. But although they did not win yesterday, they looked something like winners again.