Chelsea’s spluttering Premier League campaign took a turn for the worse as Serge Aurier’s equaliser gave lowly Nottingham Forest a 1-1 draw on Sunday.
Raheem Sterling put Chelsea ahead at the City Ground in the first half of their opening game in 2023.
But Ivory Coast right-back Aurier levelled after the break and Chelsea were fortunate to escape without an embarrassing defeat after Forest dominated for long spells in the second half.
Chelsea are languishing in eighth place after failing to win for the sixth time in their last seven league games.
The Blues are seven points adrift of fourth placed Manchester United in the race to qualify for the Champions League via a top four finish.
Just months after replacing the sacked Thomas Tuchel, Chelsea boss Graham Potter is starting to come under fire as the early optimism after his move from Brighton begins to fade.
Chelsea’s 2-0 win against Bournemouth on Boxing Day was supposed to offer hope of a brighter period in 2023.
But while it is surely too early for Potter to be worried about losing the first high-pressure job of his career, the 47-year-old needs an uptick in results in the new year to avoid putting Chelsea chairman Todd Boehly in an awkward position.
Forest are third bottom having won just three games all season, but boss Steve Cooper will take heart from the way his team rattled Chelsea in the second half.
The only dark cloud for Forest was the alleged homophobic chanting from home supporters that earned condemnation from LGBTQ groups.
Brennan Johnson threatened an early goal for Forest when he sprinted clear of Marc Cucurella and Thiago Silva, but Kepa Arrizabalaga sparred his team-mates’ blushes with a good save.
If that was a lucky break for Chelsea, Potter’s side enjoyed an even greater stroke of good fortune as they took the lead in the 16th minute.
Christian Pulisic’s cross towards Kai Havertz was deflected by Forest defender Willy Boly’s out-stretched foot, with the ball looping onto the crossbar and bouncing down perfectly for the unmarked Sterling to slam home from close-range.
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It was Sterling’s first league goal since August and only the sixth in all competitions for the England forward since his close-season move from Manchester City.
After his World Cup campaign with England was disrupted when he had to fly home when his family’s house was burgled by armed robbers, Sterling will hope a difficult season is taking a turn for the better.
Cesar Azpilicueta’s long-range effort deflected wide off Forest’s Renan Lodi before Pulisic shot straight at Dean Henderson as Chelsea chased a second goal before half-time.
But Chelsea’s first half superiority quickly faded after the interval.
Kepa came to Chelsea’s rescue with a superb save after Johnson accelerated onto Morgan Gibbs-White’s pass and unleashed a stinging shot.
Chelsea were on the ropes and Gibbs-White was inches away from an equaliser when he met Ryan Yates’ pass with a sweetly-timed strike that cannoned off the bar and bounced to safety.
With Chelsea strangely subdued in the second half, Forest’s pressure paid off in the 63rd minute.
Boly out-jumped Pulisic to head a corner towards Aurier, who deftly controlled on his chest before volleying through Kepa’s legs from five yards.
Aurier’s first goal for Forest since his September move from Villarreal left Chelsea reeling.
Potter sent on Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Hakim Ziyech and Conor Gallagher, but Yates could have won it for Forest when he scuffed just wide.
Aubameyang’s disappointing spell at Chelsea hit a new low when the Gabon forward headed wide from close-range with Pulisic in a better position to convert Ziyech’s cross.