READING 2 vs CHELSEA 2
CHELSEA manager Rafael Benitez criticised his team’s late collapse after the Blues threw away the chance to close on the Premier League’s top two by allowing Reading’s Adam Le Fondre to score twice in the last five minutes.
Benitez did not hide his frustration at succumbing to a fourth draw in five matches that raises further questions about the Spaniard’s future at Stamford Bridge.
The European champions had looked set for a comfortable win that would move them to within four points of second-placed Manchester City, after goals from midfielders Frank Lampard and Juan Mata.
But nerves set in after Le Fondre rifled his first past Ross Turnbull in the 87th minute, and the same player calmly finished deep into stoppage time to lift Reading out of the relegation zone.
“It’s difficult to explain, we were controlling the game for 85 minutes. But from the last free-kick we made too many mistakes in one situation that we’d been dealing well with all night,” said Benitez.
“We had chances to finish the game, but we didn’t do it. Even after they scored the first goal we were still in control, but if we scored three or four goals it changes the game. We have to be more clinical and be more aware of defending set-pieces.
“We did a great job for 85 minutes. We were professional and created chances, they had their first shot after 78 minutes. We are all disappointed, we knew that we could be closer and reducing the gap.”
Mata clinically half-volleyed Chelsea ahead on the stroke of half-time and his free-kick set up Lampard to head the second – his 196th for the club – as a much-needed win beckoned for Benitez.
But Hope Akpan, who just weeks ago was playing for Crawley Town, set up fellow substitute Le Fondre to fire past Turnbull at his near post, and, when the Blues failed to clear their lines following a free-kick, Akpan headed on to Le Fondre, who stayed cool to sidefoot-volley across Turnbull and inside the far post.