Sam Dalla Bona became Sam Persona Grata here yesterday as a winner two minutes into added time dimmed the memories of his banishment to train with the youth team in the close season.
The 20-year-old Italian, who fell out with manager Claudio Ranieri amid rumours that he was about to leave for Milan or Internazionale, made the most of his opportunity to earn Chelsea their first win in six games as he rifled home left-footed from 25 yards.
It was a great goal. But Chelsea, who had allowed a dogged Ipswich side to equalise Gianfranco Zola's 36th-minute opener through an 83rd-minute penalty, could count themselves extremely lucky.
Afterwards Ranieri insisted that Dalla Bona – brought to the club from Atalanta as a 17-year-old by the previous manager Gianluca Vialli – would have played even if Emmanuel Petit had not been injured, and added that it would be better for the youngster if he were to stay and develop his game at Chelsea.
For all that, rumours persist that Dalla Bona could be leaving at the end of the season for around £5m, to Inter – coincidentally, the club whom Ipswich play in the next round of the Uefa Cup.
The visiting supporters, still buoyed by the memory of their side's 3-1 win at Helsingborg on Thursday, were quick to make their point at the ground where Chelsea's own Uefa Cup campaign had come to an end on the same night at the hands of Hapoel Tel Aviv.
"We're in Europe, we're in Europe, you're not, you're not" they sang. The initial Stamford Bridge riposte – "Are you scarecrows in disguise?" was followed by more pertinent criticism: "Going down, going down, going down..."
European performances apart, Ipswich – who finished fifth last season – have underachieved this season, as their lowly Premiership position, 18th, indicates. Their League record to date, 10 games without a win, is their worst sequence since 1995, when they were relegated.
Statistics tell one story, but the visiting manager George Burley remained justifiably upbeat after a performance which appeared to have been sufficient to earn a point until Dalla Bona's final flourish.
"They showed the form of last season," Burley said. "And if we keep doing that we will be enjoying life in the Premiership next season as well.'
With the 19-year-old Titus Bramble titanic in central defence, Ipswich enjoyed parity for much of this match, although they were under siege in the latter stages of the first half as Chelsea – as so often before this season – offered tantalising glimpses of the team they could be if only they could concentrate better.
The ball was in the Ipswich net after 27 minutes when John Terry headed home, but the effort was ruled out for offside.
Nine minutes later, however, Chelsea scored for real when Celestine Babayaro, questionably adjudged the victim in a tussle with Richard Naylor, took the free-kick swiftly – and 10 yards further forward than he should have done. Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink and then Frank Lampard made inroads into the still re-grouping Ipswich defence, and when Bramble's tackle halted the latter player the ball ran free to Zola, who measured a shot low inside the far post.
The breakthrough had been made. But, instead of pressing their advantage, Chelsea allowed their thoughts and resolve to drift, and when Mario Melchiot, out of position, pushed Marcus Stewart in the box as Jermaine Wright's cross came over, they were duly punished as Stewart converted the penalty himself with relish.
Three minutes of overtime had been indicated when Bramble, having tackled Hasselbaink outside the box, finally essayed a challenge too far, losing the ball to Dalla Bona. Game over.
Goals: Zola (36) 1-0; Stewart pen (83) 1-1; Dalla Bona (90).
Chelsea (4-4-2): Bosnich 7; Melchiot 7 (Gudjohnsen, 83), Terry 7, Desailly 6, Babayaro 6; Lampard 5, Jokanovic 5 (Gallas 5, h-t), Dalla Bona 8, Zola 8; Forssell 6 (Stanic 6, 71), Hasselbaink 6. Substitutes not used: Zenden, Cudicini (gk).
Ipswich Town (4-4-2): Sereni 7; Makin 6, Bramble 8, Venus 6, Hreidarsson 7; Wright 6, Holland 6, Magilton 5, Clapham 5 (Reuser 5, 75); Naylor 5 (Couñago 5, 64), Stewart 7. Substitutes not used: Bent, Branagan (gk), Gaardsoe.
Referee: R Styles (Waterlooville) 6.
Bookings: Ipswich: Naylor, Wright.
Man of the match: Zola.
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