LONDON - Chelsea lost two players, their manager, and the initiative in the Premier League title race after crashing to a damaging 1-0 defeat at Aston Villa yesterday.
The Londoners were looking to reassert their nine-point advantage at the top of the table after Manchester City had cut their lead to six points, but instead they fell to a cunning 82nd-minute back-heel by Fabian Delph.
The visitors finished the game with nine men after Brazilian midfielders Willian and Ramires were both sent off, while their misery was compounded in stoppage time when manager Jose Mourinho was sent to the stands.
Chelsea's fourth defeat of the campaign hands City the advantage in the title race, as Manuel Pellegrini's side now have three games in hand.
It will also give hope to Liverpool and Arsenal, both of whom trail Chelsea by seven points and have two games in hand on Mourinho's side.
Liverpool visit seventh-place Manchester United on Sunday, while Arsenal face a trip to north London rivals Tottenham Hotspur.
Chelsea's Nemanja Matic had a goal disallowed for handball during a slow-burning first half at Villa Park, before the game sprang to life in the final half hour.
Mourinho had just sent on Andre Schurrle and Demba Ba for Oscar and Fernando Torres when Willian was shown a second yellow card for bundling Delph over in the 68th minute.
With eight minutes remaining, Delph played a pass wide to Marc Albrighton on the left and then drove into the box to meet his team-mate's cross with a clever flick that trundled into Petr Cech's bottom-left corner.
Delph also hit the crossbar in injury time, before Chelsea's frustration got the better of them, with Ramires sent off for an ugly stamp on Karim El Ahmadi and Mourinho dismissed for protesting.