Borini's shock winner felt at both ends of league table
Chelsea 1 Sunderland 2
Jose Mourinho picked a bad week to start losing league matches at Stamford Bridge. In a Premier League title race as unpredictable as this, it may be too early to assert that any result is decisive but when Liverpool's on-loan striker Fabio Borini stroked in a penalty to give Sunderland three points last night, everything appeared to have altered.
Chelsea didn't deserve to lose but they didn't deserve to win either. They had lost to a debatable penalty and referee Mike Dean had ignored a more obvious Chelsea appeal in the first half. Mourinho took no questions at his press conference, but after not talking to the press for a while, last night he decided to show up, making four points, congratulating his players, Sunderland, Mike Dean and the referees' boss, Mike Riley.
"I think his performance was unbelievable," Mourinho said of Dean as he retreated to sarcasm. "I think when referees have unbelievable performances, I think it's fair that as managers we give them praise. So, fantastic performance. He came here with one objective. To make a fantastic performance. And he did that."
It was Mourinho's first Premier League defeat at Stamford Bridge after 77 games, but that seemed like an irrelevance, especially to Mourinho who was dealing with conspiracies.
They had started rehearsing them on the pitch. Mourinho's assistant Rui Faria was sent to the stand for his protests after the Sunderland penalty but had to be restrained from attacking the referee with Mourinho finally pulling him by the hair to get him away.
There was some justification for their anger. Jozy Altidore had appeared to slip as Cesar Azpilicueta slid in but a penalty was given.
The futility of wargaming games in the final weeks of the season became clear last week. Sunderland took four points from their trips to the Etihad and Stamford Bridge so Liverpool, who will feel rightly cheered by last night's result, will also know that winning at Norwich today is not a formality. If they do, they can move five points clear of Chelsea before the sides meet at Anfield next weekend. Manchester City will also feel they are still in the race.
Sunderland, too, had edged closer to their miracle, something that was easy to overlook amid the fury and the excitement.
How they achieved it yesterday was sometimes hard to comprehend. The Sunderland defence was a mesmerising thing. At times, John O'Shea would stroll elegantly out of defence with the ball and it would be easy to forget that this followed a double Vito Mannone save, one of which he may have bounced off the bar or a Chelsea forward, depending on his mood.
When Samuel Eto'o swept in the game's first goal after 12 minutes, those defensive eccentricities seemed certain to lead to a heavy defeat. Instead the goal seemed to settle Sunderland who were able to get over the fact that it was the result of shocking defending.
Connor Wickham was full of confidence upfront, holding the ball up while Sunderland played constructively through the middle.
Within six minutes they were level. Chelsea switched off from a corner and Seb Larsson knocked it to Marcos Alonso at the edge of the box. Mark Schwarzer was making his debut in the absence of Petr Cech who had a virus. He couldn't hold the shot and Wickham tapped in, even if he looked offside.
It was the first goal Chelsea had conceded at Stamford Bridge since January 19 when Javier Hernandez scored a consolation for Manchester United. Wickham's had more significance at both ends of the table.
The game then took on a nasty air. Larsson and Cesar Azpilicueta exchanged words and Adam Johnson could have been sent off for a high tackle on the Chelsea full-back, but Mike Dean didn't even book him.
Sunderland's anarchic approach to defending was allowing Chelsea in but they couldn't take a lead. Branislav Ivanovic – suspended for the Champions League semi-final on Tuesday – headed towards goal but Mannone saved, knocked the ball against the bar and caught the rebound with the assurance of a man who had intended it.
He then made a furious double save from Nemanja Matic and Mohamed Salah, the two other players ineligible for the game against Atletico Madrid.
Chelsea didn't risk Eden Hazard, which diminished their creativity, but they should have had a penalty when Larsson charged into Ramires. Larsson might not have been penalised but Ramires took action, elbowing him moments later. Dean missed this too but it should lead to a suspension this week from the FA and the end of his season.
Chelsea began the second half with more intent. Willian broke with speed on the counter-attack but when the ball reached Eto'o he curled his shot wide of the post.
Mourinho made changes and sent on Demba Ba and Andre Schurrle and Fernando Torres soon followed but they made little impact.
Ba did waste a good chance when he knocked himself off his stride and sliced wide but Chelsea struggled to stay calm and it was a game when they might have missed the assured presence of Juan Mata.
In the end, it was frantic. They were searching for a winner and once Borini – who had never scored in his handful of appearances while at Chelsea – knocked the penalty past Schwarzer, they needed an equaliser. Chelsea would have expected to do that in their prime. Instead they struggled. Despite the five minutes of injury-time, Sunderland easily ran down the clock. They celebrated an important victory which may be even more critical at the other end of the table.
For Chelsea, there were other emotions. "That was diabolical," a Chelsea pensioner said as he left the ground. It was a more realistic assessment than Mourinho's.
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