"We are top of the League," the home crowd chanted defiantly, for there was nothing else to crow about after this extraordinary game. Red was the colour – two Chelsea players being sent off in the second half – blue was the mood. A first home defeat for 15 months became a humiliation with Juliano Belletti and Michael Ballack dismissed and the second goal not arriving until it was too late to matter. Manchester United will go into the Carling Cup final today only a point behind at the top of the table, having been done a huge, unwitting favour by their noisy neighbours.
If Sir Alex Ferguson and his players were watching on TV, they must have been tempted to switch off once Frank Lampard climaxed Chelsea's initial 42 minutes of domination by scoring the opener. City had rarely crossed the halfway line at that point and barely tested Henrique Hilario in the home goal; which was just as well for Chelsea as it turned out. When they did, he was found seriously wanting and only five minutes after the interval had committed two errors to allow City the lead.
Suddenly the calf injury that Petr Cech sustained against Internazionale in midweek, keeping him out for up to a month, looked as though it could become a defining moment in Chelsea's season. When Inter arrive for the second leg of their Champions' League tie in just over a fortnight's time it will be Chelsea's fourth successive home game, but on yesterday's evidence that will offer no encouragement. Although it had been 38 games since Arsenal won at the Bridge, in November 2008, they were taken apart by just the sort of counter-attacking that other opponents – Inter above all – will want to emulate.
Talking of the Bridge, Wayne's reappearance at his former ground became something of a sideshow, the only relevance to the match being whether John Terry really is being affected by the whole, er, affair. Having headed the winning goal at Burnley the day after the story originally broke, he has given several shaky performances since and was as much at fault for the first goal yesterday as his goalkeeper. That said, neutrals were grateful for the whole Terry-Bridge pantomime of heroes and villains during the first half-an-hour, when so little else of interest was occurring.
There was a real lunchtime tempo, summed up when Florent Malouda, forced to deputise at left-back again, took a free-kick that went for a throw-in on the far side of the pitch. The moment when Bridge declined to shake Terry's hand before the game was much the most dramatic until Joe Cole's shrewd pass and Lampard's equally clever run benefited from Vincent Kompany's foolish attempt at playing offside and Joleon Lescott's faulty positioning. Lampard's low shot went in off the far post.
City, with Emmanuel Adebayor suspended, produced nothing until a huge, undeserved bonus materialised in added time at the end of the first half. Bridge, of all people, sent a long punt downfield, John Obi Mikel misheaded, and Terry was caught on the wrong side of Carlos Tevez. The shot was so weak that Hilario could, as the old timers would say, have thrown his cap on it. Instead, starting from the wrong position, the goalkeeper went down late, got one weak hand on the ball and made no impression on what little pace there was on the ball.
Astonishingly, an unmarked Lescott should have added a second goal almost immediately, heading Craig Bellamy's free-kick beyond the far post as Terry lay on the ground. Five minutes into the second half, City were ahead anyway after the first of three superb counters, all involving Bellamy. For this one he raced away from a static Mikel on to Gareth Barry's pass and shot across Hilario, who was again badly positioned.
Carlo Ancelotti felt Chelsea "lost balance" after the interval. He made three substitutions, only to see his team lose two players and two more goals. In the 76th minute Bellamy sent Barry through to be brought down by the merest touch from Belletti. The Argentinian went off and his compatriot Tevez put the penalty away.
There might still have been a way back, but Ballack, already on one yellow card, received another – which might have been a straight red – for a dreadful two-footed lunge at Tevez.
The game was up, though not over; City broke with five men against three and played it perfectly for Shaun Wright-Phillips to set up Bellamy's tap-in. Lampard's late penalty was a mere gesture. "Football is strange," said City's manager Roberto Mancini. He was not wrong.
Referee: Mike Dean
Man of the match: Tevez
Match rating: 7/10
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