LONDON (Reuters) -Chelsea suffered another stumble in their faltering title challenge on Wednesday when they were held to a 1-1 draw at home by Brighton & Hove Albion after an injury-time equaliser by substitute Danny Welbeck.
The European champions, hit recently by a string of injuries and COVID cases, went ahead when Romelu Lukaku rose the highest to meet a corner from Mason Mount in the 28th minute, taking advantage of a makeshift Brighton defence that was missing centre-half stalwarts Lewis Dunk and Shane Duffy.
But a spirited Brighton pushed hard for their first ever goal at Stamford Bridge and had Chelsea pinned back for long periods in the second half.
The Blues reasserted a degree of control when coach Thomas Tuchel sent on N’Golo Kante as a substitute to shore up his flagging midfield.
But just when it seemed as if the hosts were going to hang on for three vital points, Welbeck rose between defenders Antonio Rudiger and Trevoh Chalobah to head in a Marc Cucurella cross in the 91st minute.
Compounding Chelsea’s problems, Chelsea wing-back Reece James hobbled off in the first half and fellow defender Andreas Christensen also needed treatment and was replaced by Chalobah at the break.
“We have simply way too many players who we don’t know what we can demand,” Tuchel told reporters after seeing his side held to a 1-1 draw for the fourth time in five home league games.
“We have seven COVID cases, we have four or five players out for six weeks,” the German said when asked about Chelsea’ chances of winning the league. “Why should we compete in a title race?”
James suffered a hamstring injury while Christensen went off with a back problem, he said.
Brighton manager Graham Potter praised his players for pushing right to the end to get the point.
“I thought it was a fantastic performance from the players really full of courage full of quality,” Potter said.
The draw pushed Chelsea into second place in the Premier League table on 42 points, one more than Liverpool who have a game in hand and eight points behind leaders Manchester City.
Chelsea are due to play both Liverpool and Man City in the first two weeks of January.
Brighton sit in 10th place on 24 points.
(Reporting by William Schomberg, editing by Pritha Sarkar)