No official surrender was signalled by Carlo Ancelotti but, as amanager who declared Chelsea had to win all nine of their remaininggames, this was an untimely moment for the club to concede theirfirst-ever Premier League points to Stoke.
Yet with West Ham's lunchtime capitulation, Sir Alex Ferguson'sbanishment to the directors' box at Upton Park looked to be the bestseat in English football as Manchester United placed themselves overthe hill and out of sight of Chelsea.
Top effort: Chelsea's Didier Drogba heads home past Asmir Begovic
Eleven points separated the clubs last night and only a performanceof outstanding athleticism from goalkeeper Petr Cech enabled Chelsea toearn even a point.
Ancelotti's mission for the remainder of the season has been simplified.
He has a two-match duel against Ferguson, beginning at StamfordBridge on Wednesday, to offer Chelsea's Russian proprietor RomanAbramovich the right to dream that he could yet lay his hands on theChampions League trophy at Wembley next month.
Nothing less can save Chelsea's season.
Not that Chelsea warranted criticism for their contribution yesterday.
No one had told the men in blue that, following United'scomfortable victory, they were chasing a lost cause on a ground whereStoke are unbeaten in this calendar year.
Up for it: Didier Drogba celebrates
No one had told them to preserve their energy or protect themselvesfrom injury for the importance of their midweek appointment with United.
'Obviously, we are not so happy for the result, but it is right forthis game,' said Ancelotti. 'We have to be objective. We have noinjuries, we played for much of the game at our best against a teamthat is difficult to play against and we are in the best position toprepare for our first match with Manchester United on Wednesday.
'The gap between us is more open now, but we still have to play ourgames. But if in the title race we have to close a gap, in theChampions League we are at the same level as the other clubs left, sowe have a chance to win it. I have to be happy my team were motivatedtoday. Now we have to show our skills and best ability against Unitedand we have 180 minutes to be successful.'
Ancelotti opted to play with Didier Drogba and Nicolas Anelka, assigning Fernando Torres a seat close to him on the touchline.
Even though he cost ?50million, the Spaniard has learned theeconomics of the English game are still subservient to the pragmaticdemands a manager places on performances and results.
After a run of 10 games without a goal, for club or country, Torres is a striker treading water.
In comparison, Drogba showed himself to be at his combative best.His physical presence required Stoke's central defenders, Robert Huthand Ryan Shawcross, to be on constant alert.
Hot shot: Jonathan Walters scores for Stoke
But the shape of the game was determined as early as the eighth minute when Jonathan Walters outwitted David Luiz.
Walters squeezed past the Brazilian on the left touchline, thentravelled almost half of the field before checking inside MichaelEssien to beat Cech with a stinging shot.
But Anelka and Drogba combined to lethal effect to create a 33rdminute equaliser rich in imagination and clinical in execution.
Anelka's tantalising cross was read superbly by Drogba, who stolehalf a yard on Danny Higginbotham and met the ball with a header thatleft goalkeeper Asmir Begovic a spectator.
Drogba's overall contribution will have made it hard for Ancelotti to consider meeting United without him.
'It's a good period for Drogba,' admitted the Italian.
Torres was introduced in the 61st minute, but showed no real inclination that he might end his goal drought.
Drogba hit the bar late on, but only after Cech had made three fine saves.
But for all the keeper's defiance, there was a sense that Chelsea's pursuit of United had run its course.
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Explore more:People: John Terry, Michael Essien, Petr Cech, Robert Huth, Fernando Torres, Frank Lampard, Didier Drogba, Nicolas Anelka, Carlo Ancelotti Places: Liverpool