By Phil McNulty
Chief football writer at Stamford Bridge
Chelsea were guilty of missing several chances to make the game safe
Chelsea's Champions League group stage qualifying campaign ended in low-key fashion as they were held to a draw by Apoel Nicosia at Stamford Bridge.
Coach Carlo Ancelotti, with top place in Group D and qualification for the last 16 assured, took the opportunity to give his line-up an experimental look and rest key personnel.
And Apoel took early advantage as Marcin Zewlakow stole in to strike after only six minutes as Chelsea appealed in vain for offside.
Michael Essien quickly equalised with a powerful shot from 25 yards - but he provided the biggest worry of the night for Chelsea and Ancelotti when he limped out of the action shortly afterwards with a hamstring injury.
Didier Drogba's excellent finish from Yuri Zhirkov's cross put Chelsea ahead and they seemed on course to end the first phase of their assault on the Champions League with a victory until Apoel substitute Nenad Mirosavljevic raced clear to equalise with three minutes left.
It was just reward for Apoel's fans, who provided magnificent and noisy backing for their side throughout on a rain-soaked night at Stamford Bridge.
For Ancelotti, the priority was to give some of Chelsea's shadow squad an opportunity on the Champions League stage and save established stars for sterner battles ahead.
Frank Lampard and Nicolas Anelka started on the bench, while keeper Petr Cech was given the night off.
It meant an opportunity for 18-year-old Gael Kakuta, at the centre of the transfer ban briefly imposed on Chelsea earlier this season after his move from Lens, while Joe Cole also started.
Cech's understudy Ross Turnbull suffered a traumatic start when he was forced to retrieve the ball from his net after only six minutes as Zewlakow slid home from Constantino Charalambides's pass.
The Blues were unperturbed by this early setback and Essien restored equality after 19 minutes when he took a pass from Florent Malouda and fired a swerving shot past Apoel keeper Dionisios Chiotis, who had no chance.
Essien's elation was cut short as he picked up an injury shortly afterwards and was forced off - but the hosts were still able to take the lead and restore a measure of normality to the tie as substitute Lampard waited to come on.
Kakuta fed Zhirkov and his cross was met firmly by Drogba, who flashed in another emphatic finish as the Londoners threatened to snuff out Apoel's early optimism.
The youngster then demonstrated his rich promise once more with a perfectly weighted through ball to Cole, but Chiotis was quickly out at his feet to halt the danger.
Chelsea were on cruise control for much of the second half, and their main aim as the rain fell heavily on Stamford Bridge was to ensure they did not add to the casualty list after the early injury sustained by Essien.
Essien was forced off with a hamstring injury in the first half
Helio Pinto gave Turnbull one anxious moment with a long-range shot that the keeper parried, but otherwise it was a distinctly low-key affair - although the action was played out against the backdrop of constant noise from the Apoel supporters.
Captain John Terry thought he had sealed victory with a powerful finish - only to see his celebrations cut short as the strike was ruled out for offside.
And Chelsea's frustration increased as Apoel swept forward to equalise, substitute Mirosavljevic racing clear to tuck a neat finish past Turnbull after Jon Mikel Obi had conceded possession, sending the visiting fans wild with delight.
There was still time for Cole to test Chiotis one final time, but the Apoel keeper blocked his shot with his legs, but Apoel shared the spoils.
Chelsea coach Carlo Ancelotti: "Michael (Essien) has a problem with his leg. We will look at him over the next few days and check on him.
"We hope it's not a big problem. I think he will not be able to play on Saturday."
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