The sound you just heard was corks popping in Merseyside. Chelsea's title challenge is now on life support after an absolutely stunning home loss to Sunderland, who now look like they have a chance to avoid the drop. A late penalty was the difference, with the visitors claiming a 2-1 victory.
Chelsea got off to a slow start, but produced the first goal of the game thanks to some poor set piece defending. Samuel Eto'o put his side on the board in the 12th minute off a corner, with Willian picking up the assist for his delivery. Lee Cattermole let Eto'o get around him and to the ball easily, putting Sunderland in an early hole.
Surprisingly, the visitors fought back quickly, though the means by which they scored weren't surprising at all. Regular Chelsea goalkeeper Petr Cech was rested in this game due to an illness, and his deputy Mark Schwarzer was almost solely responsible for Sunderland's equalizer. He made a stop on a shot by Marcos Alonso from outside of the penalty area, following a free kick, but couldn't claim the ball or tip it wide. Instead, he touched it right into the path of Conor Wickham, who finished to level the match at 1-1.
Very little happened for the next 18 minutes, but the match sparked to life in the 36th minute off a dangerous Chelsea set piece. Mannone failed to handle a header by Branislav Ivanovic, inadvertently pushing the ball onto the crossbar, but he was able to reclaim. From there, the rest of the first half was extremely eventful and played at a breakneck pace.
Mannone had to come up with a big save on Mohamed Salah from a narrow angle in the 42nd minute, and a follow-up effort from Salah 10 seconds later was blocked by an apparent handball from a Sunderland defender. The Chelsea players screamed for a penalty, but Mike Dean saw nothing.
Dean stayed in the spotlight for the rest of the half, arguably missing two big calls. He saw no foul by Sebastian Larsson on a physical challenge with Ramires in the box, waving play on after Larsson barged into the Chelsea midfielder, preventing him from heading into an empty net. Ramires reacted as poorly as one can, striking Larsson in the face about a minute later. Dean didn't spot that infraction either.
Chelsea were dominant from the opening whistle of the second half onwards, though they struggled to turn that into goals, which has been the big story of their spring. Eto'o had a big miss in the 48th minute, failing to finish from 12 yards off a pass from Willian. Demba Ba was brought on in the 59th minute and nearly scored six minutes after coming on, but got his feet tangled up while attempting a shot that should have easily hit the target.
The tables turned dramatically in the 81st minute, off a turnover by Cesar Azpilicueta. The Spaniard uncharacteristically slipped, giving the ball away to substitute Jozy Altidore. Azpilicueta couldn't recover and hauled Altidore down in the penalty area, causing Dean to point to the spot. Fabio Borini stepped up and rolled a shot down the center past Schwarzer, giving Sunderland a 2-1 lead.
Chelsea's coaching staff disagreed with the goal, but Jose Mourinho knew better than to get into the official's face himself. Instead, that job was left to Rui Faria, who had to be dragged away from the officials as he berated them on the sideline. The Stamford Bridge faithful agreed with Faria and decided to serenade Dean with a rendition of "who's the scouser in the black?".
Even though Chelsea had eight minutes of regular time and five minutes of stoppage time to work with after the goal, they couldn't find an equalizer. Sunderland were dominated from the penalty onwards, but they looked like a team that had learned a bit from throwing away a lead against Manchester City midweek.
Chelsea: Schwarzer, Azpilicueta, Terry, Cahill, Ivanovic, Matic, Ramires, Salah (Schürrle 66'), Oscar (Ba 65'), Willian, Eto'o (Torres 74')
Goals: Eto'o (12')
Sunderland: Mannone, Alonso, O'Shea, Brown, Vergini, Cattermole, Larsson (Celustka 90'), Colback, Borini, Wickham (Altidore 66'), Johnson (Giaccherini 66')
Goals: Wickham (18'), Borini (penalty 82')