Relegation fighters Queens Park Rangers shocked Premier League title hopefuls Chelsea at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday night, as former Blue Shaun Wright-Phillips smashed home a late winner to pull off the biggest upset of the season so far.
The bad blood from last year's encounter at Loftus Road was still fresh in the fans' and players' minds, and along with the history of the West London derby, the kindling for a fiery encounter was ready to be lit.
It looked like the spark would come early in the fourth minute for all the wrong reasons when Chelsea’s summer signing, Marco Marin—making his Premier League starting debut—lunged in wildly on Stephane Mbia with his foot raised. The challenge brought on a onslaught of abuse from the visitors, but referee Lee Mason opted to produce the yellow card rather than the red.
On another day, or 15 minutes later, Marin would have been walking down the tunnel.
However, the fire failed to catch alight, as the game’s damp, dreary pace prevented any crisp play from bursting into flame.
The Brazilian pair of David Luiz and Oscar came closest for the home side before the interval. The centre-back/defensive midfielder struck Victor Moses’ deflected cross into the ground from 20 yards and watched as it looped just off Julio Cesar’s crossbar after 14 minutes.
His compatriot, who was one of the few who—along with Marin—looked as though they could find a goal for the home side, went closer still towards the end of the half, as he saw an effort from long range deflect away from the sprawling QPR keeper only to be saved by his flailing outstretched leg. Moses fired the rebound over from distance.
The Chelsea goal remained untested for the half, with Adel Taarabt and his teammates finding few cracks in the Chelsea line.
The Moroccan’s best effort was a dink from 30 yards that scuffed into second-string keeper Ross Turnbull’s arms, while Wright-Phillips—on for Junior Hoilett, who limped off with a hamstring injury—couldn’t find the target with QPR’s only two notable shots of the half.
The fans demanded more from their respective sides and the reigning European champions provided it for the first 10 minutes of the second period.
Cesar’s goal was peppered with chances, as first Moses missed the target from five yards away, then Lampard saw a drive blocked by a red shirt, before finally the QPR keeper was forced into a world-class save to deny Fernando Torres from close range.
With the initial wave of pressure dealt with, the Premier League's bottom club found chances of their own. Wright-Phillips led the charge down the left flank just before the hour mark, finding Taarabt. He pulled the ball back to Esteban Granero, who, on the turn, sent the ball sailing to the far top corner. Only the great positioning of Turnbull made the save look routine, as he plucked the ball out of the air.
Shaun Derry, too, could have opened the scoring when he was gifted a free header from a corner, but Turnbull was ready and waiting for the weak effort.
Chelsea countered these blows from their underdog opponent and their talisman, Frank Lampard, finally found the back of the net only to see it ruled offside thanks to the tightest of margins and the accurate eye of the referee’s assistant.
The goal never came and Chelsea’s tempo and prowess began to fade. The introductions of Eden Hazard, Juan Mata and Ramires failed to find the immediate impact Chelsea needed, as The Bridge began to grow tense, and rightfully so.
A brief advance forward into enemy territory earned the Rangers a corner. The initial ball was dealt with, but fell to Taarabt on the edge of the box. He coolly laid it into the path of Wright-Phillips, who smashed a low drive into the bottom left-hand corner, crushing the home fans at his old haunting ground.
The shock of going behind spurred on Rafa Benitez’s side, but the red wall of shirts that now faced them appeared impenetrable. The visitors battled hard in the midfield and kept their keeper relatively quiet in the final minutes of a tense encounter.
Branislav Ivanovic nodded a teasing Mata cross just over the bar in the 90th minute before happy Harry Redknapp brought on both Park Ji-Sung and Kieron Dyer in the hope their years of experience would help see out the three minutes of added time.
David Luiz almost spoilt the Ranger party, but his late effort flashed over, as Chelsea’s four-game win streak came to an end.