Marko Arnautovic’s fine second-half volley earned Stoke a 1-0 win over beleaguered Chelsea as the fallen Premier League champions lost for the ninth time this season.
The Blues, with embattled manager Jose Mourinho serving a one-match stadium ban, enjoyed the better of the game in the first period, but failed to take any of the chances that fell their way.
And Austrian forward Arnautovic made Chelsea pay nine minutes into the second half when he volleyed expertly past Asmir Begovic on his return to the Britannia Stadium.
The victory was, of course, not without its controversial moment; Loic Remy found himself clipped by Jack Butland as he rounded the Stoke goalkeeper five minutes from time. Instead of going to ground, the Frenchman opted to stay on his feet and, off balance, tried to score, to no avail. Referee Anthony Taylor, in initially allowing play to continue, decided against awarding Chelsea a penalty.
Chelsea had earlier come close to levelling when Pedro hit the post and for long spells saw more of the ball than their opponents.
Ultimately, though, they could not make the most of their chances as the fresh optimism brought about by Wednesday’s Champions League win against Dynamo Kiev abruptly fizzled out with another loss to add to the Capital One Cup exit they suffered at the Britannia Stadium last week.
Chelsea are now 16th in the Premier League, just three points above the relegation zone.
And despite his name being frequently chanted by Blues fans at the game, the questions about the prospect of Mourinho being sacked will only intensify after this latest poor result.
Speculation over the Portuguese’s possible whereabouts on Saturday, with plenty of references made to the unconfirmed reports of him hiding in a laundry basket during a previous stadium ban – but there was no sign of him at the ground.
Wherever he was it seemed difficult to believe, despite some of his pre-match suggestions, that he was doing anything other than watching the televised match.
And, assuming he was observing from afar, what he saw was a contest that was lively – and feisty – from the off.
Xherdan Shaqiri sent an acrobatic effort off-target in the opening seconds before Eden Hazard blazed into the stand at the other end.
Diego Costa engaged in the first of a series of scuffles with Ryan Shawcross, and Erik Pieters was then left bloodied by a more serious, albeit accidental, collision as Pedro’s boot connected with the Stoke defender’s face.
The visitors broke away soon after with a move that finished disappointingly as Ramires poked wide, and Chelsea’s ex-Stoke goalkeeper Asmir Begovic got down to push away a shot by the Potters’ former Blues man Glen Johnson.
Chelsea started to dominate possession but could not convert it into a breakthrough, with Jack Butland doing well to palm a looping Ramires shot over and then pulling off a fine save with his foot to keep out a Costa strike, either side of the striker just failing to meet an Hazard delivery across the face of goal.
Jonathan Walters – on the day he signed a new contract with Stoke through to 2018 – did head onto the roof of the Chelsea net, but the hosts may have felt a little relieved to be heading in level at half-time.
They emerged after the break looking full of purpose and within eight minutes had snatched the lead.
Shaqiri fed Johnson, his ball was helped on by Walters and it fell to Arnautovic, who volleyed in.
That only served to increase the fiery atmosphere and Shawcross was swiftly booked for fouling Costa, before Arnautovic and Willian got caught up in a skirmish.
As Stoke looked to keep a grip on things they breathed a sigh of relief as Pedro’s curler struck the woodwork and Hazard fired across goal and wide.
It then seemed to sum things up for Chelsea when their substitute Loic Remy hurdled the out-rushing Butland and stumbled as he tried to shoot, missing the target with no penalty being given.
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