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Monday, Dec. 28, 2009

News photo
Settling for less: Birmingham City's Sebastian Larsson (left) attempts to keep Chelsea's John Mikel Obi away from the ball during their match on Saturday. The match ended in a scoreless draw. AP PHOTO

Chelsea blows chance to pull away from United

LONDON (AP) Chelsea missed the chance to go seven points clear at the top of the Premier League when it was held to a 0-0 draw at Birmingham on Saturday.

Chelsea created a handful of second-half chances but has now won just one of its past five Premier League matches, and that only with a late penalty against last-place Portsmouth.

The Blues are now five points clear of defending champion Manchester United, which could trim the deficit to two with victory at Hull on Sunday — when third-place Arsenal hosts fourth-place Aston Villa.

"It is not a good result for us," Chelsea coach Carlo Ancelotti said. "We are disappointed with the result but not for the performance of the team. We played well.

"Birmingham tried to play the counterattack. It was a difficult game for us."

Also Saturday, Manchester City beat Stoke 2-0 to close on fifth-place Tottenham, which drew 0-0 at Fulham, while Liverpool beat 10-man Wolverhampton Wanderers 2-0 and West Ham beat Portsmouth 2-0 to climb out of the relegation zone.

Birmingham was unlucky not to be ahead at halftime against a Chelsea side featuring Daniel Sturridge in attack alongside Didier Drogba.

Birmingham striker Christian Benitez was called for a contentious offside when through on goal and then had a goal ruled out by a decision from the same linesman. The referee ruled out his close-range finish for offside, even though Drogba was playing everyone on by lying on the floor apparently injured.

Chelsea's best effort came right at the end of the first half when central defender Alex smashed a 35-meter free kick against the post.

Chelsea coach Carlo Ancelotti eventually replaced Sturridge with Salomon Kalou in the 68th minute and the Cote d'Ivoire striker wasted a pair of chances within two minutes.

He miskicked when totally unmarked and then had a shot saved by goalkeeper Joe Hart.

Nicolas Anelka is already out injured and Chelsea's attacking options for Monday's game against Fulham were further reduced when Florent Malouda was sent off for a second yellow card late on. The France international will be suspended.

But Ancelotti was given a boost when Cote d'Ivoire allowed Drogba and Kalou to delay their departure to the African Cup of Nations until after Monday's match.

Martin Petrov and Carlos Tevez scored first-half goals to give Roberto Mancini victory in his debut as Manchester City manager. Robinho was substituted after one of his worst performances for City.

City has 32 points, two fewer than Tottenham's 34.

Mark Schwarzer earned Fulham a point with a late double save, stopping Peter Crouch's long-range volley and blocking Jermaine Jenas' effort on the rebound, but Tottenham's Heurelho Gomes was the busier goalkeeper at Craven Cottage.

The Brazilian 'keeper was forced into two stellar second-half stops by Bobby Zamora, one of three former Tottenham players in the Fulham lineup.

"In terms of clear-cut goal chances I'd say we deserved to win that," Fulham manager Roy Hodgson said. "Their goalkeeper made two or three very good saves and we scuffed one or two chances."

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