Emile Heskey’s shock injury-time equaliser struck a massive blow to Chelsea’s quest for the English Premier League title as visitors Wigan held the Blues to a 1-1 draw at Stamford Bridge on Monday.
The 30-year-old former England striker struck a volley on his 400th top flight appearance to leave second-placed Chelsea five points behind Manchester United with four games to go.
The Blues’ Ghana midfielder Michael Essien looked to have sealed victory with a 55th-minute shot from the edge of the penalty area.
However muscular veteran Heskey gave Wigan’s chances of ensuring a fourth season in the Premier League a major boost with his dramatic equaliser.
It handed a massive advantage to fellow Lancashire side Manchester United, who are the next visitors to Stamford Bridge, on April 26.
Wigan remain in 15th place, now six points clear of the relegation zone with four matches left.
It was the Blues’ 80th consecutive Premier League match undefeated at Stamford Bridge, but that will be no consolation to boss Avram Grant.
“We battled away. We knew all about coming to Chelsea, it’s always a big game and they are chasing Manchester United,” Heskey told Setanta Sports television.
“But we need the points too and we battled away and got quite a few chances and took the one at the end.
“It’s just one point but it keeps us up there.”
Grant admitted Chelsea’s attempt at reclaiming the title was now much more difficult.
“In the second half we played wonderful. It was one of our best performances and we had a lot of chances,” he said.
“But this is football. If you don’t score the second one and don’t pay attention this is what happens.”
Chelsea goalkeeper Petr Cech was deemed fit enough to play, albeit with a chin strap added to his regular head guard to cover the 50 stitches put in following a training ground accident.
Third-choice keeper Hilario dropped to the bench. Cech’s regular deputy Carlo Cudicini is also injured.
Midfielder Frank Lampard was due to play but rushed from the ground due to unspecified personal reasons.
Grant made seven changes, while Latics manager Steve Bruce named an unchanged side.
Wigan successfully shut the Champions League semi-finalists in a frustrating first half for the west London side.
France striker Nicolas Anelka should have done better with a fifth-minute chance, heading Salomon Kalou’s cross wide.
And Latics goalkeeper Chris Kirkland had the better of Anelka six minutes later, racing out of his penalty box to kick a through-ball clear.
Wigan’s Ecuador midfielder Antonio Valencia blasted a fierce low shot from the corner of the box 17 minutes in but Cech passed his first test by pushing it wide.
Kirkland somehow pulled off an exceptional save seven minutes later, scrambling backwards to claw a looping Anelka header away for a corner.
Chelsea kept up the pressure and in the 35th minute, Latics defender Paul Scharner accidentally headed a Juliano Belletti corner towards his own goal. However, Ryan Taylor managed to clear it off the goal line.
Grant replaced Florent Malouda with Joe Cole for the second half and the creative England midfielder wasted no time upping the tempo by firing in a shot, which Scharner blocked.
Blues captain John Terry hit the crossbar with a volley from a corner in the 54th minute.
Then Kirkland somehow kept out a close-range Kalou effort but he could do nothing about Essien’s strike.
Anelka, inside the penalty box, laid the ball off for Essien, who blasted his shot from the edge of the area across the goal and past the once-capped England goalkeeper, to the relief of the home supporters.
After the re-start, Joe Cole turned and blasted a powerful shot which Kirkland held.
Blues midfielder Michael Ballack fired a 76th-minute free kick over the crossbar.
A minute later, Joe Cole broke free and sent a swerving shot just wide from the edge of the penalty box as Chelsea hunted a second goal.
Heskey served notive of his intentions with three minutes left, forcing Cech into a low diving save.
Kirkland, inspirational throughout, blocked an injury-time Essien shot before Heskey shook off his marker at the far post to volley in a left-wing cross from substitute Jason Koumas and stun the Stamford Bridge faithful.
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