Alex McLeish's side produced a masterclass of counter-attacking football to cancel out Didier Drogba's opener and consign Andre Villas-Boas' men to a miserable end to 2011Chelsea failed to win for the fourth Premier League game in a row as they slumped to a 3-1 defeat at home to Aston Villa.
Didier Drogba grabbed the opener for his side from the spot before Stephen Ireland bundled hom to send the sides in level at half-time.
Despite the second-half introduction of Fernando Torres, the Blues could not find a breakthrough and they saw Stiliyan Petrov and substitute Darren Bent heap more misery on them with late goals which gave Alex McLeish's side the win.
The hosts made three changes to the side which drew with Fulham in their last outing at Stamford Bridge. Didier Drogba replaced the misfiring Torres as Paulo Ferreira deputised for injured full-back Jose Bosingwa. Frank Lampard also missed out with Brazilian midfielder Ramires returning to the starting lineup.
For Alex McLeish’s side, Bent proved fit enough to take a place on the bench as Stephen Ireland was handed a shock start with Emile Heskey still injured.
Despite pre-match discussion over the absence of Torres, it was a man whose presence in the Blues side is never in doubt who was presented with the opportunity to give them a dream start. Juan Mata collected Daniel Sturridge’s lofted pass in the box but could not escape the attentions of the Villa defence in a tight space and had to settle for a corner.
That set-piece was easily repelled by the visitors and they had their own chance to break when Gabriel Agbonlahor’s cross almost found Ireland, who had pulled off his man at the edge of the 18 yard box but could not win the header.
Chelsea struggled to find any further fluency in the opening exchanges as the Villans stuck to their defensive task admirably and provided ample evidence that their pace on the counter would cause trouble.
Given the cagey nature of the opening 20 minutes, the breakthrough for the hosts may have felt like sweet relief for Andre Villas-Boas, especially given the fortunate nature in which it was seized. Drogba collected the ball in the box after Ramires’ burst from midfield and shifted it into an area of little threat only to see Richard Dunne clumsily throw out a leg and give the forward an opportunity to tumble, which he duly took.
The Ivorian subsequently stepped up and slotted a nervous spot kick down the middle, one which Guzan will have been disappointed not to stop, to notch his 150th Chelsea goal and give his side lead.
The goal did little, however, to dispel Chelsea’s stuttering start and it was therefore unsurprising when the visitors hit back just five minutes later. Charles N’Zogbia burst into the box, after being released by Ireland who had controlled brilliantly, and the winger cut back to his provider to see him slide the ball beyond Cech after it appeared that John Terry’s arm had prevented his first goalward effort.
The goal was little more than Alex McLeish’s side deserved given their clear counter-attacking potency and they continued to suppress the Chelsea attack and break with pace at every subsequent opportunity.
Despite that threat, Chelsea will have been disappointed not to immediately regain the lead with ten minutes of the half remaining as Guzan’s tame block on a cross allowed Mata to release a shot at an empty goal which Stephen Warnock did brilliantly to slide in and stop.
It was in fact the best chance the hosts would get before half time with a Drobga free-kick driven woefully wide the only other opportunity of note before the break.
Though no changes were made by the hosts at half time, they started the second period undeniably brighter. A lofted Raul Meireles pass found Mata in space in the box after just a minute but the Spaniard was frustrated to see none of his team-mates gamble on his drive across the six yard box, which had been calling for a tap in.
At the other end, a Villa free kick evaded everyone but defender James Collins and, although the Welshman knew nothing of it, he almost diverted the ball beyond Petr Cech in the Chelsea goal.
The Blues then received another let off as a fantastic exchange between Charles N’Zogbia and Ireland allowed the visitors to break from the edge of their box in seconds and release Agbonlahor one-on-one with Cech. Unfortunately for the Villans, the pacy striker could not provide the finishing touch and drove into the goalkeeper’s legs, much to the relief of the home crowd.
Chelsea’s inability to create in midfield forced Villas-Boas to look to his bench just ten minutes into the second half, as Frank Lampard replaced Oriol Romeu. That change almost produced the opposite of its desired effect just seconds later, however, as Agbonlahor turned Terry with ease in the box but dragged his shot wide of the near post.
Mata was proving to be the hosts’ only true creative outlet on the day and he underlined this status by beating two Villa defenders in the box before standing the ball up to the back post. Though, as had been the theme of the match up to that point, no Chelsea forward could provide the fitting finish to his good work.
This meant another change for the Blues with Torres replacing the ineffective Sturridge on the hour mark. The Spain international has without doubt endured a frustrating 2011 at Stamford Bridge but he almost went some way to atoning for his poor form as his fantastic drive from the edge of the box crashed off the Villa bar just seconds after his introduction.
Villa continued to provide stubborn resistance against the reinvigorated hosts and Marc Albrighton even served a reminder of his side’s menace with a volley which tested Cech at his near post.
It was a defensive change by Chelsea which almost proved key with 15 minutes remaining as Bosingwa, who had missed out on a start due to hamstring concerns, replaced Ferreira and brought a fine save from Guzan just moments into his cameo.
With the hosts having made all three possible changes, Alex McLeish finally looked to his bench with just over ten minutes remaining in order to stem the flow of increasing Chelsea dominance. Bent made his first team return in place of a tiring N’Zogbia as youngster Gary Gardner made his Villa debut, replacing Albrighton.
It took just minutes for substitute Bent to have an impact, with his great work in beating Terry almost garnering a penalty, only for the referee to wave away his claims and those of Petrov just moments later after another debatable tackle in the box.
Whatever the rights and wrongs of those decisions, Villa would get what they perceived as justice just seconds later as Ciaran Clark found captain Petrov in space in a disorganised Chelsea defence and the midfielder drove home brilliantly to give his side the lead.
Bizarrely, that was to be the Bulgarian’s final contribution, as he appeared to have picked up an injury in the celebration, and he was replaced by Barry Bannan shortly after.
It appeared the cool head of an experienced midfielder would be a big miss as Villa needed to hold out against their illustrious opponents but what followed moments later dismissed the need for a backs-to-the-wall performance.
Ireland, who had proved brilliant throughout his return to the first team, intercepted Terry’s loose pass across defence to find himself through on goal and he unselfishly passed to the supporting Bent who forced the ball past Cech to seal the points for the visitors.
That goal was to provide sufficient breathing space for Villa and ensured they consigned Chelsea to a miserable end to 2011.