Manchester City revelled in our first defeat in 14 games. Liverpool and Arsenal celebrated. The outcome they craved finally arrived.
We had been beaten, with Chris Foy partially to thank for that. Our performance was itself not of the highest order, but Foy’s officiating certainly was horrendous.
Prior to Willian’s second yellow card, the match seemed destined to conclude in a reasonable stalemate. Both sides were not worthy of all three points.
Our play was conservative, shorn of any incisive penetration and accentuating our lack of a consistent goal scorer, with Fernando Torres largely ineffective. It made our probing play somewhat useless as Villa’s organised defence resisted the pressure. The back four of Leonardo Bacuna, Ron Vlaar, Nathan Baker and Joe Bennett were excellently drilled, often catching us offside.
Below-par first-half performances have become the norm in recent weeks, only to brush our opponents aside in the second period, as proven by our victories at Craven Cottage and at the Bridge against Tottenham. But here, refereeing decisions played a significant role.
Minutes before the interval, Nemanja Matic was adjudged to have handled the ball whilst forcing it past Villa keeper Brad Guzan, with replays showing the Serb to have made contact with his arm.
Another significant decision swiftly followed as Ryan Bennett cynically fouled Ramires with the Brazilian charging into the box. Foy, wrongly it seems, decided Vlaar was sufficiently close to Ramires in order to deny him a free shot at goal. Bennett should have seen red.
Soon after the break, Jose Mourinho sensed the need of a boost of urgency and purpose as he, after some hesitance, replaced Oscar with Andre Schurrle as Demba Ba joined the fray at Torres’s expense. Jose had reportedly changed his mind at the last moment, instructing for Oscar’s withdrawal over his original choice of Willian, with Oscar failing to emerge from his recent winter slump. Jose paid for his disinclination.
Moments after surviving substitution, Willian, as demanded by Jose, tracked back and followed the run of Fabian Delph, with the Villa midfielder going to ground under the Brazilian’s minimal contact. The offence did not warrant a booking, let alone one which necessitated a red card. It was the game-changer.
Bennett had stifled a goalscoring opportunity in the first period with a mere booking the consequence. This time, Vlaar was the offender, the Dutchman poleaxing Schurrle with a forceful challenge on the edge of the box as the German broke into the area. Once again, Foy’s verdict was incorrect, producing a caution for the centre-half when red would have been the more appropriate outcome.
Since Willian’s sending off, Matic had covered a vast amount of ground but as he began to tire, space appeared for Villa to exploit with our back-line looking uncommonly porous.
Villa began to believe. Delph’s beautifully-executed back-heel past Cech sent the Holte End into raptures of celebration.
Ramires’s disgraceful stamp on Karim El Ahmadi compounded our misery as Foy reduced Chelsea to nine. And as Jose rightly protested Gabriel Agbonlahor’s grabbing of Ramires, he too was sent off.
Starting XI – Cech, Ivanovic, Cahill, Terry, Azpilicueta, Matic, Ramires, Willian, Oscar, Hazard, Torres.
Subs – Schwarzer, Kalas, Mikel, Lampard, Schurrle, Salah, Ba (Cole and Eto’o were absurdly omitted from match day squad).
Man of the Match – Fabian Delph
No Chelsea player, besides the superb Matic, merited the Man of the Match accolade, but even the outstanding Serb was pipped by Delph’s wonderful display.
Apart from scoring a sublime goal, the Villa midfielder was fantastic throughout, his energy, work rate and assured passing sparking speculation over his England chances.
The 24 year-old has been largely consistent with his impressive performances this season and prompted me to question Roy Hodgson’s decision to include Tom Cleverley in his squad to face Denmark earlier this month, with the Manchester United midfielder turning out inept displays for his club.
Foy and Chelsea
When Foy is appointed referee for a Chelsea match, the chances of a player in blue seeing red is significantly increased. He has sent off Chelsea players six times in eight Premier League matches whilst producing only 23 red cards in his 232 games.
As I’m sure you are aware, we next face Arsenal in the league (after Galatasaray in mid-week) in a monumental encounter and will be without Willian, Ramires and Mourinho’s important presence on the touch-line. However, courtesy of our wealth of options, the likes of Schurrle and Mohamed Salah will be given an opportunity to impress. The Germany international will most likely replace Willian while Frank Lampard is the most preferable choice to replace Ramires.
Title Race Analysis
After Manchester City overcame Hull earlier in the day, our failure to secure maximum points means that City, who are yet to play their three games in hand, have the Premier League crown to lose.
However, I should mention their three matches include a trip to Old Trafford.
Regardless of Foy’s refereeing woes, we failed to play well enough to secure the points in a damaging defeat.