London: Chelsea’s stuttering form continued on Saturday when the Premier League leaders kicked off a hectic holiday programme with a 0-0 draw at Birmingham City.
Roberto Mancini began his reign as Manchester City manager with a 2-0 home victory over Stoke City and there was good news for another of the Premier League’s Italian coaches when Gianfranco Zola’s West Ham United climbed out of the bottom three with a 2-0 home win over Portsmouth.
Tottenham Hotspur remained in fifth place after a 0-0 draw at Fulham and the points were also shared at Sunderland, who drew 1-1 with Everton. Wigan Athletic against Blackburn Rovers ended 1-1 as did Burnley’s home match with Bolton Wanderers.
Chelsea moved five points clear of champions Manchester United despite failing to score for the first time in 34 games. United can narrow the gap at Hull City on Sunday.
Birmingham goalkeeper Joe Hart produced a string of fine saves to frustrate the visitors, extending his side’s unbeaten league run to 10 and leaving Chelsea with just one victory from their last seven matches in all competitions.
“It’s not a good result for us considering what we did on the pitch because Chelsea played well, had a lot of chances, had a lot of heart and the keeper for Birmingham made some fantastic saves,” Chelsea manager Carlo Ancelotti told the club website.
Hart, who ended the match with a bandaged head, denied Daniel Sturridge and Frank Lampard in the first half but was rescued by his crossbar when Brazilian defender Alex unleashed a thumping free kick.
Florent Malouda mis-kicked in front of a gaping goal as Chelsea continued to dominate after the break and the Frenchman’s luck did not improve as he was dismissed for a second bookable offence late on.
Birmingham had the ball in the net in the first half but Christian Benitez was ruled offside when he tapped in from close range. Television replays suggested he was being played on by a grounded Didier Drogba.
Mancini, who replaced Mark Hughes as Manchester City manager last weekend, overcame his first hurdle as goals from Martin Petrov and Carlos Tevez wrapped up the points against Stoke to keep City in sixth place, three points off the top four.
“For me, today is a good match. The players were fantastic because Stoke are a hard team,” Mancini told the BBC.
Alessandro Diamanti and Radoslav Kovac scored for West Ham as they edged out of the relegation zone.
Liverpool face Wolverhampton Wanderers later on Saturday while on Sunday United travel to Hull and third-placed Arsenal entertain fourth-placed Aston Villa.