..And Now For Something Completely Different

Hands up those of you who saw that coming?

A tumultuous week at Stamford Bridge ended with the club’s worst defeat in the Roman Abramovich era, as Sunderland came and conquered the defending champions to the tune of a 3-0 reverse.

After a terribly below-par performance at Liverpool last Sunday, Carlo Ancelotti’s men ground out a hard-earned three points in midweek at home to Fulham.

Things have rather gone downhill since.

Thursday’s shock news of Ray Wilkins’ abrupt departure from the Chelsea coaching staff was an unnecessary distraction ahead of the weekend’s festivities, but with both Manchester-based title challengers dropping points on Saturday, a win over a travel-weary Sunderland had the potential to brighten the mood.

However, with Frank Lampard, Michael Essien and Alex already sidelined, the omission of John Terry with a gluteal strain had supporters whispering with worry at a back four featuring Paulo Ferreira at centre-back and a midfield without a Premier League goal to its name.

The early action looked favourable though, with Didier Drogba going close from a free kick and Yury Zhirkov marauding his way into the penalty area before dragging a shot wide.

As the action developed, Steve Bruce’s Black Cats began to emerge into affairs and led by a tenacious – if not sometimes illegal – pressing approach, asserted themselves on their illustrious opponents.

A fantastic save from Petr Cech to keep out Danny Welbeck’s header signalled the start of a barrage of attempts at the Blues goalkeeper, and he was on hand to keep out another attempt from the Manchester United loanee minutes later.

Ferreira was beginning to struggle with the movement of Welbeck and Gyan, and despite further saves as both the latter and Kieran Richardson tried to beat the Czech custodian, Sunderland weren’t to be denied.

Nedum Onuoha will never be mistaken for Lionel Messi, but as he waltzed through half-hearted challenges from Mikel, Bosingwa and Ivanovic (who was lucky to remain on the field after a professional foul minutes earlier), he looked like a man against boys.

The finish trickled agonisingly towards the back of the net in front of a frustrated Matthew Harding faithful, many of whom would surely have wanted to intercept the ball on its slow path home.

It was the first goal to be scored against Chelsea in Premier League football since March, when John Carew netted for Aston Villa.

Half time allowed Ancelotti the chance to turn things around, but with five academy products alongside Salomon Kalou on the bench, options were somewhat limited.

Instead, a fabulously flowing move involving Jordan Henderson carved out a chance for Gyan, who slotted nonchalently past a bemused Cech and sent a travelling 600 or so fans into delerium.

Kalou entered the fray in relief of a clearly below-par Florent Malouda but the script remained unaltered.

A static forward trio and a frustrated midfield simply ensured that the Chelsea defensive line was far too deep, and once Sunderland had won possession back, as they often did, they were able to play the ball around without sign of pressure or contest.

Craig Gordon was a spectator in the visiting goal, only waking up to watch Nicolas Anelka’s effort loop over the crossbar from the edge of the area.

Gael Kakuta and Josh McEachran replaced Zhirkov and Ramires but simply reduced the average age of the team, with neither afforded the opportunity to make a difference by their downtrodden teammates and further questionable refereeing from Chris Foy.

As Ashley Cole’s wayward backpass presented Welbeck with an open goal to inflict the club’s largest home defeat since the visit of Manchester United in 2002, the exclamation point was firmly in place.

Many of the 25,000 or so persons remaining come the full time whistle let their feelings be known with the rather classless act of booing.

For everyone involved, this week’s international break may have come at a good time.

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