Lampard sub plot sinks City
Chelsea 2 Manchester City 1
When the moment came, when the chance to prove his critics wrong arrived, Frank Lampard grabbed it with both hands.
He took responsibility for the late penalty, took the ball and drove it with unadulterated venom into the back of Manchester City's net, bringing Chelsea a momentous victory.
This was pure Lampard, pouring all his frustration at being again left on the bench into a constructive act for his club. He could have sulked, could have looked to link himself to another club but he got his head down, remained the true professional, and revived Chelsea's title ambitions.
It had looked as if City would hold on for a point, but the loss of Gael Clichy to a deserved red car after 57 minutes proved too much. Invited on, Chelsea attacked with growing gusto and when Joleon Lescott inexplicably handled a shot from the outstanding Daniel Sturridge, Lampard had his date with destiny. Joe Hart had a date with the back of the net.
The Bridge rocked as it has rarely rocked before. From all around the ground came songs, asking City who they were, what the score was, as the visitors slumped to their first defeat in the league since May 7 at Goodison Park. At the final whistle, the speakers almost shook off their hinges to 'One Step Beyond'. It was Madness all right.
If occasions played in a downpour can be sulphurous, this had been one of them, the fireworks begun inevitably by Mario Balotelli. For the man who likes a late night, he had begun early, going to town on Chelsea's wretched defence as City dominated the opening half hour.
Even with Oriol Romeu shielding John Terry and Branislav Ivanovic, Chelsea's rearguard could have been breached three times in the first half. After the high line, Andre Villas-Boas gave us the Maginot line: easily circumvented.
It was a miracle that Chelsea were level by the break.
When Balotelli scored, that should have been the fuse lit on the black-and-red touch-paper.
Sergio Aguero, all elegant trickery, made the goal, cutting in from the right with a super run. Terry tried to keep close but failed, allowing Aguero to slip the ball brilliantly past Ivanovic for Balotelli.
The striker, justifying his selection ahead of Edin Dzeko, relished the opportunity, enjoying this one-on-one with Petr Cech. He glided wide, leaving Cech stranded, before calmly rolling the ball in. The angle was relatively tight but no problem for Balotelli. Chelsea's back-pedalling defenders had no chance. Those close to the goalmouth reported a cup of tea thrown at Balotelli. After the Typhoo, the typhoon.
As the rain thundered down, soaking Villas-Boas' private detective's mac, making the ball skim across the surface like an ice-puck, City just tore into Chelsea for half an hour. Only when Clichy was sent off did Chelsea look in command.
For half an hour, Aguero was a real spinning top, putting Terry and company in a total spin. He held off Jose Bosingwa effortlessly but shot just wide. Then Balotelli came calling again, slipping a super little pass across the area to David Silva.
The Spaniard darted into the box, appearing to elude Bosingwa until caught by the full-back. Mark Clattenburg waved to Silva to get up but took no further action. It was either a penalty or a caution for simulation. City's case appeared strong.
Channelling their frustration well, they flowed inexorably towards Cech's goal. Balotelli lined up a free-kick from way out but it went way over. Chelsea fans cackled at that but it was the City supporters in good heart. What impressed was their work-rate, as well as their invention. First Silva, then Aguero dropped back to clear.
Sturridge led the revival, brilliantly fashioning the equaliser. Controlling Terry's driven pass, he dribbled past the hapless Clichy before crossing for Raul Meireles to score from close range.
Against the first-half run of play, Chelsea were level and doubts began to seep into the league leaders' minds. Juan Mata was starting to cause problems, twisting City markers this way and that. Sturridge was running at Clichy, who earned his first yellow for a foul on the England international.
City were in a strange mood now, Yaya Toure kicking out at Ramires and Vincent Kompany clattering Mata. Then Clichy caught Ramires and had to walk.
Chelsea sensed a chance, knowing that their title ambitions required all three points. With 18 minutes left, Meireles was removed for Lampard, who was greeted rapturously by the faithful.
In truth, Meireles had hardly done badly, even scoring, but Lampard is still favoured son round these parts, even if not in the manager's office.
City's 10 men were sitting deep, absorbing punishment. Mancini, knowing a point was good in the circumstances, removed Aguero and then Silva, sending on Kolo Toure and Nigel de Jong. City were now 4-3-1-1 with Yaya Toure supporting the front-running Balotelli.
Still Chelsea came, urged on by their fans. Romeu made a run, then Mata, then Lampard looked to find Drogba and Sturridge. And then came that sweetest of moments for Lampard.
Mancini was incensed, arguing with the fourth official Mark Halsey, but City could really have no complaints. Clichy had cost them. So had Lescott.
If Lampard applied the superb finish, great credit should go to Sturridge, who departed three minutes from time to a great ovation.
The Bridge reverberated to "super Chelsea". This was a super comeback, a sign of their resilience, a reminder that the title race is far from a two-horse event. (© Daily Telegraph, London)