Chelsea 3 - Aston Villa 3: Villa cut short the Blues' joy with late equaliser

Carlo Ancelotti watched his Chelsea side throw away a crucial two points in this breathless draw against Aston Villa and says he believes the result means his side must beat Manchester United in March to stand any hope of retaining the championship.

Failure to see off Villa left Chelsea marooned in fifth place, six points behind leaders United having played a game more.

While a slip-up from their unbeaten arch-rivals is not impossible, it is highly unlikely Manchester City, Arsenal and Tottenham would also all press the self-destruct button.

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Blues manager Ancelotti said after last Wednesday's ugly win over Bolton that Chelsea's title defence would have been over had they failed to end their worst run of league results for 11 years – but he was defiant yesterday.

"It's not over because we are improving and I think that we can say something again this season," he said, pointing out United had to win their game in hand to go nine points clear.

"First, they have to win. Second, I think that the gap is not a light gap at this moment. But everything is open again.

"Obviously, we have to beat them here, and we can say something again about the title."

Yesterday's result put Ancelotti's position under fresh scrutiny after Wednesday night's 1-0 win over Bolton had eased the pressure on the Italian.

At least Chelsea avoided defeat, a prospect that looked highly likely six minutes from time against a Villa side that had largely outplayed them.

Trailing 2-1 after Ashley Young's penalty and Emile Heskey's header had overhauled Frank Lampard's spot-kick, the home side thought they had won it when Didier Drogba and John Terry each found the net.

Terry's goal sparked wild celebrations as Chelsea's players mobbed Ancelotti, but the joy was short-lived as Ciaran Clark levelled in stoppage time.

Ancelotti said: "I think that we had a fantastic reaction second half, we played very well, with a lot of energy, with a good spirit.

"And when we thought that the game was won, we lost two points at the last situation.

"For this reason, I'm disappointed because at this moment, when we needed to win, it was our fault because I think we were not able to maintain concentration until the end."

Ancelotti denied his players had paid for over-celebrating, saying: "I think that it was not over-celebration. It was a good reaction after the goal.

"The last goal, yes, it was a mistake, because we conceded an easy cross and we didn't mark in the box."

He also played down an argument between Terry and Drogba at the final whistle, saying: "Everything is okay."

The draw eased the pressure on Villa boss Gerard Houllier, whose side had lost six of their previous seven games in all competitions.

"We showed character, we showed bravery, we didn't bottle it – we played," he said.

"At 2-1, we knew that Chelsea would throw everything at us to equalise and, in fairness, they did.

"I would've been extremely disappointed if we didn't get anything from this game, but really for the players. Because I thought that, in fairness, they had done enough to at least get a draw."

Houllier also hit out at rumours of dressing-room unrest at Villa Park following last Tuesday's 4-0 thrashing at Manchester City.

"I've read so many things that really stun me, that are nothing to do with the truth," he said.

"Sometimes a player who is not playing calls his agent and his agent calls the press.

"You can't make a game like that and get a result and particularly react like that if you don't have some togetherness.

"Probably we gave in too early at Manchester City, but that's the past."

The result made amends somewhat for last season's 7-1 thrashing at Stamford Bridge, with Villa owner Randy Lerner celebrating as wildly as Chelsea's players had done earlier.

"I think he wanted to make a result as well, probably," said Houllier. "Last year, unfortunately, he was here."

Yesterday's game did prove costly in one respect, however, with Villa's seven yellow cards set to see them hit with a 25,000 Football Association fine.

Houllier joked: "I'll pay if necessary."

Brad Friedel hailed the fighting spirit of his Aston Villa team-mates after they twice came from behind to snatch the draw.

Following on from defeats at the hands of Tottenham and Manchester City, Friedel hopes yesterday's draw can spark a move away from the drop zone.

"It's a massive point," he said. "We've been in such a bad run of form we needed something and it's great to get it at Stamford Bridge.

"We went down 3-2 and all credit to the lads. We've got over what I thought was a poor penalty decision against us at the start and we've fought back and hopefully this will kick-start our season and we can get back up the table."

Clark, Heskey and Young returned to the Villa side yesterday, along with other recent injury victim Richard Dunne and Friedel hopes their problems in this area are finally over.

"We had a few long-term injuries back in the side (at Chelsea) and when you're on a poor run you have to draw a line under it at some stage.

"We showed we've got a lot of fight in us and we're going to have a lot of fight in us for the rest of the season.

"There was a different feel about us against Chelsea. We showed a lot more determination; they brought wave after wave of attacks in the second period but all in all we're going to go away pleased with a point and hopefully now we can get a win against Sunderland."