Wayne Bridge made a point, then left with all three as Manchester City blew the Premier League title race wide open once more by hammering nine-man Chelsea at Stamford Bridge.
All kinds of conspiracy theories had been raised about the pre-match handshake following revelations about John Terry's alleged affair with Vanessa Perroncel, the mother of Bridge's young son.
In the end, there was no mass boycott of the traditional pre-match handshake by City players, just an icy stare from Bridge as he refused to shake Terry's hand.
It was perhaps the most predictable part of a truly astonishing afternoon that exploded into life once Frank Lampard had put the hosts in front just before the break.
At about that point, Chelsea's world imploded.
Henrique Hilario gifted City goals either side of the interval, failing to make saves Petr Cech would regard as routine to keep out shots from Carlos Tevez and Craig Bellamy either side of the interval.
Then Juliano Belletti was red carded for a foul on Gareth Barry that allowed Tevez to fire home a third from the spot.
And the drama did not finish there as Michael Ballack was also sent off for two yellow cards before Bellamy added another.
A stoppage time Lampard penalty at least raised a cheer from a team whose lead over Manchester United remains a precarious single point.
For Bridge though, it was a perfect afternoon. He stands on the moral high ground, despite the disgraceful chants aimed at him by the home fans, and City are back in the top four.
The intrigue concerning Terry and Bridge had completely overshadowed what was a key encounter for both clubs.
After their midweek loss in Milan, Chelsea were eager to re-establish their four-point lead over Manchester United whilst for City, it was an opportunity to reinforce their top four credentials after a disappointing FA Cup exit at Stoke.
Indeed, it could be argued the Bridge issue has taken quite a lot of heat away from Roberto Mancini, who, after that short post-Christmas honeymoon period, has found his position already coming under scrutiny.
The Italian cannot have been too impressed with his side's early efforts either.
Although Chelsea were not at their best, they monopolised possession and could have been in front when Didier Drogba turned onto an off-target Lampard effort and fired a first-time shot over the bar from six yards.
An overworked Vincent Kompany also sliced a shot over his own bar, while, for their part, City barely emerged from their own half.
Given that backdrop, Chelsea could have been forgiven for thinking it was 'job done' when Lampard struck.
Joe Cole had cut a frustrated figure during the opening period and clearly remains some way below his best.
But he spotted Lampard's perfectly-timed run in a flash and once through, there was never any real doubt the midfielder would beat Given, which he did with a precise shot into the corner.
The home fans breathed a sigh of relief and went off to grab their half-time snacks, only for Tevez to jolt them out of their complacency and shine the light of responsibility on Hilario.
With Petr Cech out for a month with an calf injury, Chelsea are relying on Hilario at a crucial stage of the season and there could only be concerned frowns on the home bench as Tevez's shot rolled in.
It looked bad in real time. Replays were no kinder to Hilario after Tevez had turned Terry, then scuffed a shot that incredibly turned into his 20th goal of the season.
Within four minutes of the re-start, City had scored again, with Hilario again placed in the role of accused.
Although Chelsea had plenty of men forward when Craig Bellamy broke from halfway, John Obi Mikel appeared to do everything right.
He did not dive in and kept the Welshman to his outside, ensuring the angle was as tight as possible when the shot eventually came.
But yet again Hilario was not up to the task as Bellamy's shot flew under his body and into the far corner.
For a team that had not scored on this ground since 2000 and had offered so little in the opening 40 minutes, it was a quite astonishing change of fortunes.
But more was to come as the red cards started flying.
Belletti was shown his for a foul on Gareth Barry that allowed Tevez to tuck home a penalty.
Ballack followed for a tackle on Tevez that could easily have been a dismissal in itself. A second yellow was produced and he was gone too.
Bellamy took advantage of the huge holes now apparent in the Chelsea rearguard with his second of the game.
And while Lampard rounded off the scoring, it was City, and Bridge, who were laughing all the way back to Manchester.Reuse content