Aston Villa caused a potentially pivotal upset in the Premier League title race with a 1-0 victory at home to nine-man Chelsea on Saturday at Villa Park.
Fabian Delph scored the only goal in the 82nd minute, flicking in substitute Marc Albrighton's cross 14 minutes after Willian had been sent off for his second bookable offence. Chelsea largely dominated possession and had a goal ruled out in the first half, but the Blues were unable to avoid defeat and saw their 14-match league unbeaten run come to an end.
Chelsea finished the match with nine men after Ramires drew a straight red card in second-half stoppage time. Blues manager Jose Mourinho was also sent off in the closing moments.
After the match, Mourinho declined to comment about the sending-offs. Speaking to Sky Sports, he said:
It was a good, solid performance against a good team. Defensively, we were really strong and we had no problems coping with the danger that Aston Villa has.
After that, I prefer not to comment because I don't want to bring the game into disrepute and I don't want to be accused.
I prefer to do what we have to do in football. In football, we have just to let it go and not to comment because if you comment, you are in trouble, and I don't want to be.
Despite the loss, Chelsea remain atop the Premier League table, six points ahead of Manchester City. But Chelsea have played three matches more than City. Liverpool and Arsenal, both seven points behind, also have two games in hand.
Mourinho's side will have a chance to make amends quickly. The Blues host Arsenal next Saturday in a match that could have profound title implications.
A Chelsea victory at Stamford Bridge could kill off Arsenal's challenge, but a win for the Gunners would give Arsene Wenger's team new impetus in the league.
Another big test awaits on April 27, when Chelsea will visit Liverpool. With only two matches on the fixture list after the trip to Anfield, the game could serve as a title-decider.
Aston Villa, meanwhile, moved up to 10th with the victory. Manager Paul Lambert's team will host Stoke next Sunday.
"All the lads were terrific. I don't think it's fair to single out an individual. It was a massive team performance," Lambert told AVFC.co.uk. "I knew it was going to be tough. We did a lot of work. Their energy levels were high. They had to do that. Their hunger and desire, the ability, the belief was just fantastic."
Chances were scarce for both Villa and Chelsea in the opening exchanges. Chelsea were the better side but failed to find an early goal, with Willian shooting into the side netting in the 12th minute and Oscar curling an effort narrowly wide from the edge of Villa's box.
Villa's best chance of the first half fell to Christian Benteke in the 39th minute. Gabriel Agbonlahor headed to Benteke along the edge of the box on the left, and Benteke volleyed just wide of the far post.
Two minutes later, Chelsea thought they had gone ahead. In the 41st minute, Willian curled a corner from the left to Nemanja Matic at the back post. Matic controlled the ball with his arm and torso before bundling in at the near post. But after consulting with his linesman, referee Chris Foy ruled the goal out for a handball.
Just before the end of the first half Benteke directed a header straight at Chelsea goalkeeper Petr Cech, and the teams went into half-time level at 0-0.
Chelsea continued to dominate possession in the second half but still struggled to find a way through Villa's organised defence. Oscar had a good chance in the 61st minute, finding himself with time and space in Villa's box after Chelsea worked a short corner. But Oscar rolled a tame shot at Guzan, who saved easily.
Villa came close again in the 66th minute, when a fine team move saw Andreas Weimann cut back for Benteke along the edge of Chelsea's box. But Benteke rolled his shot just wide of the far post.
Two minutes later, Chelsea were reduced to 10 men as Willian drew his second yellow card for pulling back Delph. Foy showed Willian the red card and Chelsea had to play the final 20-plus minutes with a numerical disadvantage.
Moments earlier, Mourinho had nearly withdrawn Willian in a double substitution. Instead, Oscar made way for Andre Schurrle, and Demba Ba replaced Fernando Torres.
Villa moved quickly to capitalise on the sending-off. Delph curled a shot off target in the 76th minute, and Ron Vlaar headed a corner just wide five minutes later. But at the other end, Eden Hazard dragged a free-kick wide in the 79th minute.
Villa's breakthrough goal finally came in the 82nd minute, and the goal might eventually go down as a pivotal moment in the title race. Delph started the move, powering through the middle before passing to Albrighton on the left. Albrighton crossed back into the middle, and Delph flicked the ball into the net with his trailing foot to give Villa a late lead.
Villa weren't satisfied, and Albrighton nearly picked out Weimann with a cross to the back post in the 86th minute. Benteke then forced a save from Cech in the 90th minute with a well struck shot from the middle.
Delph had another chance to seal the win in stoppage time after running free in the middle, but Cech deflected his shot onto the woodwork and the danger passed. It made no difference, though, Chelsea came apart in the closing moments.
First, Ramires received a straight red card for a studs-up foul on Karim El Ahmadi. Mourinho followed him moments later, having been sent off for his reaction.
The full-time whistle blew moments later, and with that the title race had new life.
|Aston Villa Player Ratings vs. Chelsea|
|Karim El Ahmadi||6.6||7.5|
|Marc Albrighton (for Agbonlahor, 75')||N/A||6.9|
|Ciaran Clark (for Bennett, 78')||N/A||6.4|
|Ratings via WhoScored.com|
|Chelsea Player Ratings vs. Aston Villa|
|Andre Schurrle (for Oscar, 67')||N/A||6.1|
|Demba Ba (for Torres, 67')||N/A||5.9|
|Ratings via WhoScored.com|
Aston Villa host Stoke next Sunday in the Premier League.
Chelsea host Galatasaray on Tuesday in the second leg of their UEFA Champions League round-of-16 tie. The teams drew 1-1 in the first leg last month in Turkey. The Blues return to the Premier League next Saturday with a home match against Arsenal.