LONDON (Reuters) - John Terry headed a second-half equaliser to rescue a 1-1 draw for Chelsea at Tottenham Hotspur on Saturday as the managerial battle between Jose Mourinho and his former apprentice Andre Villas-Boas ended in stalemate.
The two Portuguese coaches would have enjoyed contrasting experiences as the game ebbed and flowed with the hosts dominating the first half and taking a deserved lead when Gylfi Sigurdsson finished a flowing move.
Mourinho’s decision to introduce Juan Mata for the second half turned the encounter in Chelsea’s favour, however, and the Spaniard’s curling free kick was headed in by Terry 20 minutes after the interval following a spell of intense pressure from the visitors.
Chelsea looked favourites to take all three points until referee Mike Dean’s controversial decision to send off Fernando Torres 10 minutes from time.
Torres, who was booked earlier in the game for a coming together with Jan Vertonghen, was given a second yellow card after an innocuous aerial challenge with the same player.
The headline writers billed the encounter as a battle between two friends-turned-enemies who were in opposing dugouts for the first time, four years after Villas-Boas quit Mourinho’s backroom staff at Inter Milan to follow his own path.
The pair had been close, Villas-Boas working under Mourinho at Porto and Chelsea before their spell together in Serie A signalled the end of their working relationship.
Mourinho, famed for creating teams with impenetrable backlines, may have been casting envious glances at a Tottenham side who came into the match with the best defensive record in Europe’s top five leagues, having conceded just one goal.
That record did not look under threat in a cagey first half that came to life after 19 minutes when Sigurdsson slotted the home team ahead after Denmark’s Christian Eriksen had again underlined his quality in the playmaker role.
The Dane stole a few yards of space with a clever turn and squared it for Roberto Soldado, whose neat lay off fell perfectly in the stride of the on-running Sigurdsson who rode the challenge of Terry and finished low past Petr Cech.
Midfielder Paulinho had two chances to extend the lead, first being denied by great block from Branislav Ivanovic and then striking the outside of the post on the verge of halftime.
The visitors’ stale first half display prompted Mourinho to throw the out-of-favour Mata into the action at the interval and the move seemed to inspire some renewed impetus.
Torres suddenly came to life and created an early chance for Oscar that went begging before working himself into space only to see his finish parried by Spurs keeper Hugo Lloris.
It was Mata who conjured the leveller, delivering a perfect free kick into the Tottenham box and Terry escaped his marker to glance his header into the net.
Lloris then produced an excellent block to deny substitute Andre Schuerrle, before the wind was taken out of Chelsea’s sails by the Torres dismissal.
Tottenham had chances to snatch the win with Defoe firing straight at Cech before Sigurdsson almost scored a stunning late winner with a volleyed effort that dipped just wide.
Mourinho claimed his side deserved more from the encounter. Typically, Villas-Boas disagreed.
”I think (it was a fair result),“ he told Sky Sports. ”The second half was not as good as we wanted. They did well to score from the set-piece.
“Both teams had good chances, the chances were spread. We had a good opportunity for 2-0 just before halftime; that would have been the killer.”
Spurs remained two points clear of Chelsea at the top of the table although Arsenal and Manchester City could both knock them off their perch later on Saturday.
Reporting by Toby Davis; editing by Martyn Herman