READING, England ● Rafael Benitez has warned his Chelsea side they must cut out the defensive errors that have threatened to derail the London club’s campaign in recent weeks.
Benitez was left frustrated after his side conceded a two-goal lead in the final three minutes of Wednesday’s Premier League match away to Reading, eventually being held to a 2-2 draw at the Madejski Stadium.
The result prevented Chelsea from extending their lead over fourth-placed Tottenham to six points. It came on the back of a League Cup semi-final defeat by Swansea and an unexpected FA Cup draw with third-tier Brentford.
It was not the first time Benitez had seen his Chelsea team throw away a two-goal advantage. Reading’s recovery following that of Southampton when they visited Stamford Bridge two weeks ago.
This latest draw will have done little to bolster relations with Chelsea supporters unhappy the former Liverpool manager was brought in to replace sacked fans’ favourite Roberto di Matteo.
“At this level, they know we have to be more clinical,” said interim manager Benitez.
“They (the players) know we made mistakes in defence,” the Spaniard added. “It’s a question of working on these things. We have to take responsibility.
“We win together. We draw together.
“We can say that we have to be more clinical, and more aware of this situation with these mistakes defending set-pieces, but we’ve been doing a professional, perfect job for 85 minutes.
“They (Reading) had their first shot after 78 minutes. It’s difficult how to explain how we drew this game.”
Benitez admitted the slip-ups had been costly but insisted the dethroned European champions were getting stronger overall.
“Nine days ago, nine, we beat Arsenal. We’ve had two draws since, one in a second leg (against Swansea) that was difficult, and another when we controlled the game in the second half at Brentford.
“Today (Wednesday) was a fantastic game. We still need to get the result we deserve. We’re still in a really good position in the table, but it could have been really better.”
He added: “That is the frustration. Not just the game, but the position. We could have reduced the gap (to second place) and we could have kept pushing.
“But we have to carry on…I’d be more worried if we’d not played well for long periods.”
Chelsea were in control at Reading after Juan Mata and Frank Lampard put them ahead but Royals substitute Adam Le Fondre struck twice in the final minutes to clinch a point that moved Brian McDermott’s side out of the bottom three.
Le Fondre has now scored five goals in his last three league appearances, all after coming off the bench.
“You can make a difference on the side, tweaking things, and if you have Adam le Fondre coming off the bench it can make a difference,” said Reading manager McDermott. If he gets a chance, he’ll score.
“Of course I’d start with him, but I’m trying to find a way to get results. We’re trying to find the best solutions. The boy’s happy, the team’s happy, because of those last few results. I’m so pleased for him and them.”
He added: “I do the best I can to try and get the right team to get the result. He (Le Fondre) is just a great bloke, that’s it.
“He’s funny, real good banter. He trains like he wants to be the best player in training. He’s getting better all the time.”
McDermott believes Reading have shown in recent seasons an ability to improve in the final weeks of the campaign and expects this quality to come to the fore in their latest battle to avoid relegation from the lucrative Premier League.
“The team do get stronger. They’ve done that over time. That’s what has happened over the last three years.
“If we can do that again, we’ll be ok in this league.”