IT PROVED to be a case of third time lucky for Mame Diouf as the Senegalese international secured Stoke City their first Premier League point at Stamford Bridge.
Chelsea looked to be on course for an eighth successive home league victory against the Potters courtesy of Bertand Traore’s thumping effort shortly before the interval.
However, after spurning two glorious opportunities to break the deadlock during the first period, Diouf came to his side’s rescue with a superb header five minutes from time.
The Potters were full value for the point they earned and may feel aggrieved not to have taken all three having created by far the clearer opportunities throughout the afternoon.
Diouf may well have had a hat-trick to his name on another day, whilst Bojan, who was introduced late on, very nearly nicked it for the visitors right at the death after the impressive Giannelli Imbula brilliantly picked him out following a barn-storming run down the wing.
Mark Hughes stated prior to kick-off that his side would rise to the challenge facing them in West London, and his pre-match intentions were clear as he brought Diouf back into the side at the expense of Jonathan Walters.
There was one other change to the eleven with Marc Muniesa returning to deputise for Phil Bardsley, who missed out after suffering an injury in Wednesday’s 1-0 triumph against struggling Newcastle United.
Chelsea, arguably with one eye on next week’s crucial Champions League fixture with Paris Saint Germain, never looked comfortable, with the Potters being the side in control of the game for large parts of the afternoon.
Stoke’s patience on the ball was frustrating the hosts, but on the break Chelsea always looked a danger. Brazilian international Willian undoubtedly being the focal point of their most expansive play in the final third.
Still, it was Hughes’ troops, who came into the game on the back of three successive victories, who should have been ahead midway through the first half.
Ibrahim Afellay capped off a bursting run with a sublime ball across the 18-yard box, although unfortunately Diouf was only able to prod the ball over the bar after meeting the inviting centre ahead of Thibaut Courtois.
The 28-year-old was causing havoc once more shortly after when Xherdan Shaqiri brilliantly picked him out from the far touchline, but the Senegalese lacked composure, as he hammered the ball into the ground and wide of the target with just the ‘keeper to beat.
The Potters were reminded about the presence of Guus Hiddink’s array of stars as Eden Hazard and Oscar forced Jack Butland into good, although somewhat routine, saves.
It looked like the half would end in stalemate - that was however until referee Mark Clattenburg waved play on following an untidy challenge on Afellay, before the ball fell to Traore, who turned Glenn Whelan and lashed a thumping effort into the far corner of the net.
Would that be the goal that caused City to crumble?
Well, any notion of that was put to bed from the restart as a powerful run from Marko Arnautovic culminated in him letting rip a rasping long-range strike that Courtois did well to save, before Geoff Cameron, who was playing through the pain-barrier once again, headed the rebound over.
Buoyed by the showing from their team the City faithful of around 1200 were making themselves heard regularly during the second 45 minutes, and the players were without doubt responding to their presence, and the somewhat sombre atmosphere within the Chelsea ends of the stadium.
Despite being behind Hughes’ troops sniffed blood, and they thought they had finally found a deserved way back into proceedings when Shaqiri, who was enjoying another fine performance, glided past two Blues defenders and thumped the ball towards the far corner, only for Courtois to once more come to his teammates’ rescue.
At the other end, some sporadic creativity from Chelsea saw Butland called into action on a couple of occasions - firstly to deny substitute Loic Remy from distance and then to block Oscar’s effort from 12-yards.
Hughes responded to a slight change in philosophy from Chelsea by thrusting Bojan on to the field, and the attacking change swung the encounter back into the visitors’ favour as they once more looked the more dangerous of the two sides.
He very nearly latched onto a cute through ball from Arnautovic within a minute of his arrival, and then teed up Imbula on the edge of the penalty box, although his wayward effort was somewhat out of sync with the rest of his afternoon’s performance.
As the minutes and seconds ticked down towards a seemingly fruitful Saturday for the home side, they were stung in their backside as Shaqiri’s dangerous ball across the 6-yard box was flicked out of the path of Arnautovic, but only as far as Diouf who powerfully headed Stoke level.
The disappointment around Stamford Bridge could have turned to despair soon after as Joselu and Stephen Ireland, both of whom were introduced late on, linked up well to forge an opening, only for the Spaniard to see his goal-bound strike blocked by Gary Cahill.
You would have expected the visitors to have sat back and defended the point they were on course to earn, but that doesn’t fit with Hughes’ style, and instead his side continued to progress up the field.
They could have claimed what would have been a deserved victory when Imbula’s sensational run down the left flank culminated in Bojan squirming himself free of Cahill, but not for the first time on the day Courtois came to the rescue of the Blues with another tremendous save.