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Benitez: Chelsea improving despite Royals draw

CHELSEA manager Rafael Benitez is adamant his team are still heading in the right direction under his stewardship despite watching them throw away a two-goal lead in a frantic finale at Reading last night.

The Blues looked set to extend their lead over fourth-placed Tottenham to six points after Juan Mata and Frank Lampard struck either side of half-time.

Adam Le Fondre had other ideas, however. The Reading super-sub came on with little over 20 minutes left and yet again made a crucial impact, beating Ross Turnbull first in the 87th minute and then 50 seconds from the end of stoppage time to hand Reading a vital point.

Spurs and Everton lie four and five points behind the west London club, but Benitez is refusing to panic.

The Blues manager said: "Nine days ago, we beat Arsenal. We've had two draws since, one in a second leg (of the League Cup semi-final against Swansea) that was difficult, and another when we controlled the game in the second half at Brentford.

"Today was a fantastic game. We still need to get the result we deserve."

Although the Blues were not at their best, even the most pessimistic away fan would not have foreseen Le Fondre breaching the visitors' defence twice in the last few minutes.

The 26-year-old, who now has 12 goals to his name this season, lost his man to convert Hope Akpan's pass for his first strike.


The Blues defence then left three players unmarked at the back post in the final minute of stoppage time and Le Fondre made them pay.

Benitez refused to criticise his defence afterwards, however.

"We all take responsibility. We don't blame anyone: it's for us to analyse why we didn't kill the game off, and to work to stop the mistakes," the Spaniard said.

"We're still in a really good position in the table, but it could have been really better.

"We are improving a lot."

Brian McDermott, in contrast to his shell-shocked opposite number, was a picture of joy as he talked through Le Fondre's late double.

He said: "The two finishes from Alfie (Le Fondre)... the second one was ridiculous.

"It was a top, top-drawer strike, and to do it at that stage of the game..."