John Terry departed the turf here bare-chested and with a trademark salute to the travelling support, his evening transformed from a shaky start into a familiar show of strength. The defender might have arrived vulnerable, confronted by the capital's rising force in Tottenham Hotspur and distracted by the furore that had engulfed him in the build-up, but he grew into this contest in defiance of a din of abuse. In dragging his team with him any lingering frustrations at the end were Spurs' to endure.
A draw may not prove enough in the long-term to revive Chelsea's own interest in the title race – they now trail Manchester City by 11 points – yet they will have been buoyed at resisting Tottenham so impressively. A blip at Stoke recently aside, Spurs had felt irrepressible since the autumn and would have approached this encounter hoping to squeeze further breathing space from local rivals. Yet by weathering their early storm and imposing themselves impressively thereafter Andre Villas-Boas' team rather demonstrated that the balance of power in London has not tipped decidedly just yet.
The Portuguese's giddy reaction at the performance was evidence of satisfaction, though there was so much to admire from both sides in a contest that thrilled from the opening exchanges. Tottenham's start had been blistering, the hosts threatening to run riot for a period while Gareth Bale tore into the visitors' right flank with glee. Chelsea's subsequent recovery was just as admirable, restoring their poise by hauling themselves level against the run of play, then hinting that they might edge ahead with Didier Drogba thudding a half-volley on to the woodwork.
Their dominance was more persuasive after the interval, a fact acknowledged by both managers afterwards, even if the evening was denied a decisive third goal for all the rat-tat of chances created. The script felt somehow prescribed for Terry to block Emmanuel Adebayor's goal-bound attempt deep into stoppage time with his back as he slid in to intercept the Togo forward's shot. Villas-Boas claimed he would not have been dismayed to have lost in the dying seconds, so encouraged was he by the team's display, but the visitors were not to be denied the point they merited. Theirs had arguably been the more coherent attacking threat.
That had felt an unlikely conclusion to have eventually drawn when Chelsea were so tentative and Tottenham briefly untouchable at the start. Bale drove them on, the notion promoted by Harry Redknapp the previous day that the Welshman was "extremely doubtful" for the game at best appearing a deception as Jose Bosingwa and Branislav Ivanovic gasped in his early vapour trail. The Serb would not see out the half, limping livid from the fray with a hamstring strain to be replaced by Paulo Ferreira. A pair of Portuguese right-backs would eventually fare better against Bale but, while his adrenalin was pumping, Chelsea wilted.
For a period Spurs threatened to administer a thrashing. Bale had already veered across the penalty area, opponents shrinking in front of him, before seeing a shot at goal blocked. As it was, Chelsea were still breached by the eighth minute, Sandro Raniere claiming possession from Daniel Sturridge with the ball squirting out to Bale on the flank. Bosingwa was powerless to haul the winger in, with the Wales international's cross beautifully angled as it fizzed across the six-yard box beyond Terry for Adebayor to tap home ahead of a Petr Cech's tentative dive.
Yet, once behind, Chelsea appeared to recover some resolve. Indeed Spurs' better opportunities thereafter – Adebayor being denied a second, first by a linesman's flag and then by Terry's block, or Sandro's deflected shot tipped over the bar by Cech – were chiselled out on the break.
Instead the visitors, encouraged by Brad Friedel's spill from Juan Mata's attempt, found some rhythm. Sturridge had missed from the rebound but he would make amends. The England forward duly converted a ninth league goal of a productive campaign by tapping in Ashley Cole's cross with home players in uproar that the full-back had been waved on after the ball cannoned up kindly on to his arm from Rafael van der Vaart's attempted tackle.
Tottenham's approach was undoubtedly disrupted by the Dutchman's own hamstring strain – his team-mate Younes Kaboul had succumbed to the same problem in the warm-up, while the visitors' John Mikel Obi joined the walking wounded at the break – which prompted a reshuffle. Redknapp bemoaned a lack of options on the right with Aaron Lennon already absent, leaving Spurs to tweak their system and surrender numbers in the centre.
Ramires' rampaging runs from deep should have claimed the game for Chelsea, the Brazilian invariably free to burst forward only to prove profligate in front of goal. But, even if a draw leaves both these teams on the fringes of the title race, there is encouragement to be had.
Third and fourth at Christmas, they retain plenty of incentive.