Eden Hazard came to Maurizio Sarri’s rescue as the Chelsea star’s superb late strike earned a 1-1 draw against Wolves on Sunday.
Sarri’s side were seconds away from another damaging defeat after Raul Jimenez put Wolves ahead at Stamford Bridge.
Hazard spared the under-fire Sarri’s blushes with his thunderous stoppage-time equaliser, but it was still a frustrating day for the Blues boss.
Sarri’s side had won three times in 10 days to temporarily silence reports that the Italian was facing the sack.
But Chelsea’s latest misfiring effort raised the possibility that Sarri is back on borrowed time in west London.
With fourth-placed Manchester United playing fifth-placed Arsenal later on Sunday, Chelsea, languishing in sixth, will be further adrift of the top four after another tense afternoon for Sarri.
It has been a nightmare debut season for former Napoli boss Sarri, who had to endure a League Cup final defeat against Manchester City in which Chelsea goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga refused to be substituted.
Under Sarri’s watch, Chelsea have also suffered humiliating thrashings at City and Bournemouth, while supporters chanted for his sacking after the FA Cup exit against Manchester United.
Beating Tottenham and Fulham in the league and then easing past Dynamo Kiev in the Europa League last 16 first leg on Thursday had given Sarri some breathing space.
But Wolves have proved a thorn in his side this season and, after beating the Blues 2-1 at Molineux in December, they left the Italian looking over his shoulder anxiously again.
Chelsea are in action at Kiev on Thursday before a league trip to Everton next Sunday.
The international break looms after that and Sarri could do with victories in those games to ensure Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich doesn’t wield the axe.
- Chelsea flaws -
With Chelsea’s legendary striker Didier Drogba watching from the stands, it didn’t take long for Gonzalo Higuain – Sarri’s handpicked targetman – to demonstrate the flaws in the current crop.
After a rapid exchange of passes with Pedro, Higuain could only muster a shot that was blocked by Romain Saiss.
Higuain, on loan from AC Milan, had another sight of goal from N’Golo Kante’s pass, but this time his low strike was pushed away by Rui Patricio.
Despite all their possession, Chelsea lacked a cutting edge in a creatively uninspired display that was a return to the problems they have endured for much of the season.
A monotonous procession of slow, sideways passes brought no reward against Wolves’ massed defence, triggering jeers from frustrated Chelsea fans at half-time.
After an anonymous first half, Hazard finally showed signs of life with a surge that ended with the Belgian being hauled down by Matt Doherty on the edge of the area.
But David Luiz’s effort from the resulting free-kick bounced tamely off the Wolves wall.
Having soaked up Chelsea’s futile attempts to break them down, Wolves sprang out to snatch the lead with a perfectly executed counter in the 56th minute.
Breaking from their own area, Wolves exploited the out of position Chelsea defence as Jimenez flicked a pass to Diogo Jota.
Jota ran wide before guiding the ball back into Jimenez, who prodded home via a deflection off Cesar Azpilicueta for his 14th goal this season.
Higuain tried to lead the Chelsea response with a shot on the turn, but Patrico saved before Pedro’s long-range effort was pushed over by the keeper.
Higuain couldn’t stretch far enough to score when Hazard’s corner was deflected into his path.
Willian’s low strike was repelled by Patricio as Chelsea pushed for the equaliser.
With just moments left, Hazard at last ended Wolves’ stubborn resistance with a fierce long-range drive that flashed past Patricio for his first goal in seven games.