And they all said the title decider was to be next week’s crunch match against Liverpool. Sunderland, and Liverpool loanee Fabio Borini, however, had other ideas.
Chelsea’s league ambitions are in tatters, and with it Mourinho’s perfect home league record, as bottom club Sunderland prevailed against Chelsea in a feisty encounter in the Saturday evening sun.
Eto’o’s early volley looked to set Chelsea on their way, but Wickham’s instant reply and Borini’s late penalty ensured all three points went to the visitors.
It led to a heated exchange between Mourinho’s assistant Rui Faria and Mike Dean, resulting in Faria being restrained by several of Chelsea’s backroom staff. It also led to Jose Mourinho presenting a 53-second speech, refusing to answer Sky Sports’ questions but merely congratulating his players, Sunderland, and then more sarcastically, Mike Dean and the referees’ boss, Mike Riley.
It was another typical case of so near yet so far for the Blues. How a side can prevail again Manchester City twice, Liverpool, Arsenal and Manchester United, but not see off the likes of Aston Villa, Crystal Palace and today against bottom side Sunderland only further compounds the agony.
But tonight was a night which showed Sunderland’s desire to stay in the top division was stronger than the Blues’ desire to win it.
Even when Samuel Eto’o had put Chelsea ahead with a clever volley from a set-piece, Sunderland had not given up hope. After all, they had recovered from an early setback just three days ago, and with rusty Schwarzer, Chelsea’s oldest ever deubtant, deputising for the ill Cech, there was no reason not to believe.
That belief turned into reality when Connor Wickham pounced on Schwarzer’s parry from an Alonso shot. The striker, who scored a late brace mid-week against Manchester City, still had his scoring boots on to lob one into the net, reacting faster than Terry.
Then came plenty of moments for Chelsea to win it. Ramires’ had an open goal from three yards, whilst Ivanovic’s header found its way to the bar. Ba, too, had the goal gaping but unfortunately slipped.
The costliest slip proved to be eight minutes from time. Azpilicueta’s slip presented Altidore through on goal and when the Spaniard tried to recover, he was adjudged to have brought down the American striker. Borini scored to help his loan side in their relegation fight, and in turn, help his parent club vying to win the title for the first time since 1990.
And then came the fracas. Champions League or nothing.
(Chelsea) Man of the Match
SAMUEL ETO’O: The Chelsea back-line has been reliably solid but it was evident there was a new (or, rather, very old) kid on the block, and Schwarzer’s slip, together with Azpilicueta’s slip, is what ultimately cost Chelsea. Until that point, Chelsea, led by Eto’o, was valiant in their approach and though it was a laboured performance by all in blue, Eto’o deserves my praise purely for a well-taken goal. 6/10
Mourinho dictated the press conference, refusing to answer questions but only venting his frustration: “First of all, congratulations to my players, they gave everything. Secondly, to Sunderland, they won three important points. Thirdly, to Mike Dean: his performance was fantastic, really amazing. And finally, congratulations to Mike Riley [the referees’ boss] for the way he organises things this season, the referees are doing really well. I have nothing more to say.”
Gus Poyet was delighted for his professional side, but evidently sad for the club he has so much emotional attachment to: “The players kept believing. We needed something special and it happened in the last four or five days, but it is not over for us yet. I would like Chelsea to win the title… but we got a bit of luck when Cesar Azpilicueta slipped. It is a penalty that we can argue about all night.”