EPL: Nine-man Chelsea implode as Aston Villa dent title bid
Fabian Delph's flicked strike in the 82nd minute, either side of dismissals for Willian and Ramires, stopped the Blues maintaining their advantage over second-placed Manchester City, who are now just six points behind Chelsea with three games in hand.
Leaders Chelsea surrendered the initiative in the Premier League title race as they had two players and boss Jose Mourinho sent off in a shock 1-0 defeat at Aston Villa on Saturday. Fabian Delph's flicked strike in the 82nd minute, either side of dismissals for Willian and Ramires, stopped the Blues maintaining their advantage over second-placed Manchester City, who are now just six points behind Chelsea with three games in hand.
Tempers flared in stoppage-time when Mourinho took his protestations over Ramires' red card onto the pitch before receiving his marching orders from referee Chris Foy. It was a bitter end to a frustrating match for Mourinho, who watched his lacklustre side labour in vain to break down Villa before succumbing to Delph's winner.
As well as their games in hand, Manuel Pellegrini's City have a superior goal difference to Chelsea and Mourinho could be forgiven for feeling he is cursed at Villa Park -- the only top-flight ground in England at which he has not won. The Portuguese could have few complaints with the result though after an insipid performance from his team in which they created only a spate of openings, a disallowed goal for a handball by Nemanja Matic the best of them.
Meanwhile, it meant back-to-back home victories for Villa for the first time in four years as Paul Lambert's side climbed into the top half of the table. Mourinho had recalled the fit-again Fernando Torres for Samuel Eto'o up front, while Brazil duo Willian and Oscar were also restored.
This was a contest where Villa had to play with a no-holds-barred intensity to match the leaders and Chelsea were given an early insight into what lay in store when a Nathan Baker lunge on Eden Hazard earned the defender a booking.
It was Villa who created the game's first opening when a well-worked move in the 10th minute ended in Delph crossing for Christian Benteke yet the striker could only head over the crossbar.
Willian posed the Blues' biggest threat early on and, after cutting in menacingly from the left, his low 20-yard strike flashes inches past Brad Guzan's near post.
Four minutes later he teed up compatriot Oscar just inside the area for a whipped effort which curled narrowly wide of the right woodwork.
Villa were close to taking the lead when Benteke's audacious scissor kick from outside the area flashed wide.
The Blues had the ball in the net just before the break when Matic bundled home at the far post from John Terry's flick-on yet, after consulting with assistant Peter Banks, Foy ruled the midfielder had controlled the ball with his forearm.
Villa were always a danger on the counter though and Benteke was unlucky to see an effort from the edge of the box curl wide after a one-two with Andreas Weimann.
Mourinho reacted by introducing Andre Schurrle and Demba Ba for Torres and Oscar on 67 minutes in a bid to spark his team into action, yet a minute later Chelsea's cause was dealt a hefty blow following Willian's dismissal.
Already on a caution for a first-half two-footed lunge on Leandro Bacuna, the midfielder could have few complaints following a needless tug on Delph in the centre of the pitch.
It fully shifted the momentum into Villa's favour and Chelsea were made to pay with eighth minutes left when midfielder Delph fed Marc Albrighton before meets his return cross with a stunning improvised backheel which crept inside the far post.
Petr Cech then pushed another Delph strike onto his crossbar before Ramires saw a straight red for an ugly two-footed stamp on Karim El Ahmadi, which then resulted in Mourinho also being dismissed for his protests.