Even Jose Mourinho’s teams take their foot off the gas sometimes and last night, at the Hawthorns, Chelsea paid the price as they fell to their first Premier League defeat since New Year’s Day.
Chelsea have already proven their championship credentials but here they barely stepped out of second gear and duly succumbed to two goals from Saido Berahino – offering a reminder of his rich potential – and a third from Chris Brunt.
For Chelsea it was a third league defeat of the campaign and their heaviest in the Premier League under Mourinho since a 3-0 loss at Middlesbrough in 2006. It means his 2015 vintage cannot reach the 90-point mark they managed in his two previous championship seasons.
From the Londoners’ perspective, though, it was a night which will be best remembered for the bizarre sending-off of Cesc Fabregas, who responded to a melée sparked by Diego Costa by kicking the ball at Brunt to earn a straight red card – a sanction that should mean he will miss the first two games of next season.
One notable statistic before this match was that John Terry was looking to become the first outfield player in a title-winning team to play every minute of every game since Gary Pallister for Manchester United in 1992/93. The old warhorse completed another 90 minutes here, although his uncharacteristic failure to deal with an early cross into the box led to a chance for Callum McManaman, who skipped away from Filipe Luis and flashed in a shot that Thibaut Courtois turned behind.
If that suggested a lack of intensity in the champions’ play, the feeling was confirmed by Berahino’s ninth-minute strike. Given space to turn on to a Joleon Lescot pass just outside the ‘D’ of the penalty box, the Albion forward curled a wonderful first-time strike to the left of Courtois and into the corner.
After the improbable sight of Craig Dawson nutmegging two Chelsea players in succession, Costa did his best to stir the visitors into life, holding off Darren Fletcher and pulling the ball back for Eden Hazard, whose close-range strike was deflected over. However, rather than simply add some spark to proceedings, the Spanish international then decided to chuck in a flamethrower, starting the flare-up that led to Fabregas’s red card.
Sir Alex Ferguson’s famous line about former Stamford Bridge favourite Dennis Wise – “He could start a fight in an empty house” – came to mind as Costa shoved Gareth McAuley to the ground off the ball. When the pair squared up again, referee Mike Jones intervened, booking Costa, and it was at that moment that Fabregas kicked the ball into the crowd of players, striking Brunt’s head.
It gave the home fans a pantomime villain to jeer and they almost had another goal to cheer as James Morrison fed Brunt on the left of the area but Courtois made the save. Instead it was Berahino who doubled the lead with his 20th goal of an impressive season from the penalty spot moments after the restart. Terry was the culprit, swiping at Berahino’s right leg as he shaped to shoot, and although Courtois got a hand to Berahino’s strike he could not keep it out.
Terry could easily have been sent off but escaped even a booking and Chelsea’s 10 men nearly found a foothold in the game when Loïc Rémy beat Boaz Myhill with a shot from 20 yards that cannoned off the foot of the post. As it was, the game was up on the hour when Brunt exchanged passes with Craig Gardner from a short corner and carried the ball into the box before arrowing in a shot off the hands of Courtois at the near post.
Albion have now taken the scalps of both Manchester United and Chelsea in the past fortnight and the celebratory mood was quite a contrast with last season’s final game when the Hawthorns was virtually empty by the time of the team’s misleadingly titled lap of honour – a transformation that speaks volumes for the impact made by Tony Pulis since he replaced Alan Irvine on New Year’s Day.
An intriguing summer lies in store with chairman Jeremy Peace confirming that “interested parties” – both overseas investors – are conducting due diligence with a view to a takeover. Peace promised a “smooth transition” with Pulis going nowhere, however.
The game offered further evidence of Pulis’s wisdom in recruiting Fletcher and Albion’s performance made it a difficult evening for Ruben Loftus-Cheek, who lasted 73 minutes before making way for another youngster, Nathan Aké. Mourinho’s final substitute was debutant Isaiah Brown. A product of the Albion academy who made his league debut at 16 in May 2013, he incensed Albion by departing for Stamford Bridge three months later. Even in defeat, Mourinho had managed a last laugh of sorts.Reuse content