LONDON (AFP) – Late equalisers in each half from Chelsea’s Cesc Fabregas kept West Ham United out of the Premier League top four following a 2-2 draw at Stamford Bridge on Saturday.
West Ham had the better of the first half and took a deserved lead through Manuel Lanzini, only for an error by Winston Reid in injury time to give Chelsea a free-kick that Fabregas curled home.
Andy Carroll restored West Ham’s lead a minute after taking the field as a substitute, but Fabregas levelled again from a penalty after Chelsea substitute Ruben Loftus-Cheek was tripped by Michael Antonio.
Chelsea have not won for four matches, but remain unbeaten in the Premier League under interim manager Guus Hiddink.
West Ham are now unbeaten in eight games in all competitions, but will be kicking themselves for missing a good chance to move into the Champions League places.
The positive for Chelsea was that they showed plenty of spirit in the first match since their season was effectively ended by successive losses to Everton and Paris Saint-Germain in the FA Cup and Champions League.
West Ham, looking full of confidence, attacked from the kick-off and took the lead in the 17th minute.
John Mikel Obi was at full stretch to knock the ball out of Dimitri Payet’s stride, but it only travelled as far as Lanzini, 25 yards out.
The Argentine got the ball on his right foot, looked up and curled it over Thibault Courtois and into the net.
Payet then tried an extravagant volley from a cross by Mark Noble that had Courtois scrambling across his goal, and Cheikhou Kouyate, awarded a new five-year contract this week, could only glance a header past the post.
Chelsea looked flat and even their main source of inspiration this season, Willian, could not be relied upon when a foul by Kouyate on Kenedy game him a chance from a free-kick 22 yards out.
His shot beat the defensive wall, but dropped a yard wide of the post.
When Reid’s poor control in first-half injury time gifted the ball to Oscar and forced the New Zealand defender to bring the Chelsea man down 25 yards out, it was Fabregas rather than Willian who took the free-kick.
This time the ball flew past Adrian’s right hand and into the top-left corner.
As West Ham sought to restore their lead, Payet sent the ball past Courtois early in the second half, but John Terry was there to clear.
Chelsea took the ball straight upfield, where Oscar could only put Branislav Ivanovic’s diagonal cross past the far post when scoring looked easier.
West Ham responded again. Payet sent Aaron Cresswell in and the left-back’s shot thundered against the underside of the crossbar.
In the 61st minute, Payet’s diagonal pass to the left took Ivanovic out of the game and enabled Carroll, who had been on the field barely a minute, to guide the ball between Courtois and his near post.
Chelsea tried to hit back, but Oscar’s shot was deflected wide off Angelo Ogbonna and Fabregas worked himself free of his marker to meet Willian’s corner, only to head high.
Then Cresswell blocked a volley from Oscar and Fabregas’s attempt to net the rebound with an overhead kick sailed high.
Both Chelsea central defenders went forward repeatedly to try their luck from a succession of corners by Willian, but Terry headed over and Gary Cahill wide.
West Ham could have sealed the points, but Chelsea substitute Bertrand Traore cleared off the line from Carroll’s header and the value of that became clear as Chelsea went to the other end and levelled again.
Another substitute, Loftus-Cheek, was brought down by Antonio, although the contact appeared to have occurred outside the penalty area.
Referee Robert Madley, who has given more penalty kicks than any other Premier League referee this season, awarded another, his ninth. Fabregas stepped up and converted it coolly.