Chelsea 1 West Ham United 1
The life of Ray Wilkins had been celebrated with gusto in this arena prior to kick-off, from banners in the stands to flowers and a vintage No 8 shirt placed on the assistant manager's seat in the home dugout. Both sets of fans had warmed to the glimpses of the former Chelsea midfielder and coach in action, beamed out over the big screens at either end, with West Ham's support bellowing out their own admiration.
The tributes were heart-felt and fitting. It was to the champions’ intense frustration that their team could not quite produce the victory to which Wilkins would have thrilled from his seat just in front of the press box.
He would have rejoiced in some of his favourites’ attacking play, particularly when they were dominant throughout a one-sided opening period, and enjoyed the frantic intensity of the last quarter once the visitors had plucked parity from nowhere. But he would have cursed the reality Chelsea’s campaign is petering out.
This draw left Antonio Conte’s side 10 points off fourth-placed Tottenham Hotspur with six games still to play, their prospects of qualifying for the Champions League fading with each hiccup. The gap has widened this weekend, with Chelsea’s profligacy ultimately costing them yet again. Back when they had been dominant, the zest of their approach play appeared to have set them apart but chances were missed and a victory passed up. West Ham, six points clear of the bottom three, can spy safety.
They had weathered the home side's eagerness here and ended grateful for Joe Hart's excellence in goal. Chelsea's front three had seemed to feed off N'Golo Kanté's energy through the centre, the Frenchman a frenzy of interceptions and short passes, cajoling Cesc Fàbregas into action at his side. Willian and Eden Hazard were a blur of movement ahead of them and, when they clicked, that combination sliced through West Ham almost at will.
Some of their more intricate play took the breath away, summed up when Fàbregas slid a pass from deep to prompt a rat-a-tat exchange at pace between Hazard and Álvaro Morata, with the Belgian smartly liberating Willian. Only Hart’s smart save with his outstretched left leg denied the Brazilian as he bore down on goal.
It was a fine intervention so to ship from Hazard's resultant corner, played short, felt horribly careless on the visitors' part. Victor Moses's centre was looped towards the far post and nodded down far too easily by Morata, in amid grounded opponents. César Azpilicueta duly flicked up and away from a dozy Marko Arnautovic, dangling a leg weakly, with the Spaniard able to poke the loose ball into the far corner from five yards out. West Ham's defenders had rather stumbled into the concession, concentration lapsing while they marvelled at Hart's original save. Everything about their attempt to repel the corner had been slack.
Other opportunities had been spurned but, while Hazard was on the move, Chelsea always carried real menace. Willian should have doubled the advantage in the hosts' first foray forward of the second period, collecting from the Belgian's backheel to shimmy inside Mark Noble only to drag a shot wide of the far post. Morata, with goals in his last two games, had two ruled out here for offside with his eagerness having edged him carelessly in front of the last man. With each missed chance, the visitors' conviction that this might not prove another fruitless trip across the capital was pepped.
West Ham's own threat had been sporadic, and invariably conjured by Arnautovic. One glorious diagonal pass from deep, summoned by Arthur Masuaku, had bypassed the recalled Gary Cahill early on only for the Austrian forward to collect rather than volley first time. The England centre-half recovered sufficiently to suffocate that attempt but would be culpable when David Moyes's side plucked parity 17 minutes from time.
Cahill’s header from Noble’s punt into the box was indecisive, neither a pass to a team-mate or a clearance, with Arnautovic quick to tear on to the loose ball and pull back his centre. There loitered Javier Hernández, only introduced three minutes earlier and a regular scorer as a substitute against these opponents, to fizz a shot inside Thibaut Courtois’ post with his first touch of the contest.
It was a goal the locals had feared, scarred as they are by their team's inadequacies over recent weeks, with Hart's wonderful leap and fingertip save to deny Marcos Alonso an immediate riposte doing nothing to improve the mood of the majority. Everything thereafter was frenetic, from Kanté's timely challenge on Arnautovic, bustling free of the home side's backline, to another magnificent spring and save from Hart to turn away Olivier Giroud's header. But West Ham stood strong. Chelsea's season of missed opportunities is maintained.