Ref blunders leave Warnock fuming
Cardiff City 1 Chelsea 2
It needed something pretty spectacular for Chelsea head coach Maurizio Sarri not to walk off the pitch as the most unpopular man in Cardiff, but referee Craig Pawson and his officials somehow managed to upstage the Italian.
Victor Camarasa's goal had put Cardiff City on course for what would have been a huge victory in their bid to avoid relegation - a result that might well have made Sarri's position untenable.
But Pawson allowed a clear offside equaliser from Cesar Azpilicueta to stand and then let Antonio Rudiger off with a yellow card after the defender had hauled down Kenneth Zohore when the Cardiff substitute was through on goal.
Then, to rub salt into the wounds of fuming Cardiff manager Neil Warnock, Chelsea substitute Ruben Loftus-Cheek nodded in an undeserved winner in stoppage time.
Warnock dragged two of his players away from the officials at the final whistle and pointedly stood directly in front of them as he clapped all four sides of the ground and the home fans loudly booed Pawson and Co back down the tunnel.
The defeat leaves Cardiff five points off safety with a trip to Manchester City to come, and Warnock said: "It's the best league in the world, but the worst officials. They don't understand what is at stake. They shouldn't make mistakes at this level.
"If anyone was in doubt before today, VAR has to be the answer to help them out. The lads have said 'What do we do now, gaffer? What's the point?'
"It's soul-destroying, really. If I was a Burnley, Brighton or Southampton fan, this is the best thing that could have happened today, because the lads are flat."
Cardiff also thought they could have been awarded two penalties, one in the first half when Marcos Alonso pulled Sean Morrison's shirt and another in the second period.
"There was the penalty shout on Morrison," Warnock said. "The second half, 53rd minute, Rudiger has pulled Morrison's shirt back and the ref's in a really good position."
Having been into the officials' room after the game, Warnock added: "They're all honest guys, aren't they? They're as disappointed as me, really. But it doesn't have the same effect on them as it does me. I had to go into the bathroom and bite my knuckles."
Sarri celebrated Loftus-Cheek's winner wildly, but this dysfunctional relationship can surely not go on past this season, assuming it survives that long.
There had been murmurings of discontent and some booing at the end of a first half in which Chelsea, with Eden Hazard, N'Golo Kante and Callum Hudson-Odoi on the bench, did not have a shot on target.
But when Camarasa put Cardiff ahead just 52 seconds after the interval, the full anti-Sarri song-sheet was worked through by the visiting supporters.
It started with a simple "We want Sarri out" and escalated to "F*** Sarri-ball", when the Italian finally sent Hazard on in place of Pedro.
Bringing on Hazard did not appease the fans, who, like many independent observers, thought Hudson-Odoi had done enough on his England debut to earn a first Premier League start.
The calls for Hudson-Odoi grew louder but Sarri ignored them and made Loftus-Cheek his next substitute in place of Jorginho.
He then made Olivier Giroud his last roll of the dice, so Hudson-Odoi had another afternoon on the touchline.
Giroud ran on to the pitch with "You don't know what you're doing" directed at Sarri, followed by louder chants of "We want Sarri out".
Cardiff supporters responded by shouting "We want Sarri in".
It appeared the Italian's hopes of hanging on to his job by steering Chelsea back into the top four would be ended until six crazy minutes in which Pawson and the officials effectively saved him.
Azpilicueta was at least a yard offside when he stepped back to head in Alonso's flick from Willian's corner in the 84th minute, but the goal was allowed; it seemed Willian had been obscuring the view of Eddie Smart, Pawson's assistant.
Nobody was in the way of Pawson or his assistants when Zohore chased a ball over the top and Rudiger brought down the Cardiff striker with only goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga between him and the back of the net.
But Rudiger got away with a yellow card and there was enough time left for Willian to swing in a cross that Loftus-Cheek headed past Neil Etheridge to make this result very much about the officials, to the relief of Sarri. (© Daily Telegraph, London)