London, Dec 13: Chelsea blew open the Premier League title race by ending Manchester City's unbeaten start to the season, defeating the leaders 2-1 at Stamford Bridge thanks to a late penalty by substitute Frank Lampard.
City was down to 10 men after Gael Clichy's sending-off in the 58th minute when fellow defender Joleon Lescott blocked Daniel Sturridge's shot with his hand, giving Lampard the opportunity to smash home the winner from the spot in the 82nd.
It was City's first league loss since May last season—a run of 17 games—and trimmed its lead to two points from Manchester United, with resurgent Chelsea now back in the title hunt a further five points back in third after its third straight victory.
“It's a gratifying win,” Chelsea manager Andre Villas-Boas said. “Seven points behind, with so many teams challenging for the title, is nothing.”
City had taken the lead after just two minutes through Italy striker Mario Balotelli's eighth goal of the season and was unfortunate not to add a second goal amid a dominant opening half hour, when Spain playmaker David Silva was denied a penalty after appearing to be fouled by Jose Bosingwa.
Portugal midfielder Raul Meireles equalized in the 34th as Chelsea fought back, tightening up its midfield to stifle the effervescent Silva and Yaya Toure, and then took charge after Clichy's red card for two bookings in a 12-minute span.
“We didn't score enough in the first half and then the game changed after the sending-off. It became difficult,” City manager Roberto Mancini said.
With Tottenham level on points with Chelsea and fifth-place Arsenal only two further back, the top five are separated by nine points after 15 games. It sets up an exciting second half of the season.
City, with its expensively assembled team of stars, will still be regarded by many as the title favorites but will rue losing control of a match it started so well.
“Chelsea were really lucky in this game,” Mancini said. “We are disappointed with this defeat but we have time to recover.”
Having already dispatched Manchester United 6-1 and Tottenham 5-1 on its travels this season, City's commanding start suggested another title contender was going to be on the end of a hammering by Mancini's free-scoring team.
Barely 105 seconds had been played when Balotelli—just about onside despite Chelsea's protestations—ran onto Sergio Aguero's through-ball, rounded goalkeeper Petr Cech with ease and slotted into an empty net. Chelsea's high defensive line, which has been the subject of much focus this season, was again found out as City made it 49 goals in 15 games.
Chelsea responded through Meireles, again selected ahead of Lampard, as he made the kind of late run into the box his teammate has produced so often down the years to meet Sturridge's cross with a sidefooted volley.
Clichy's recklessness then turned the match Chelsea's way.
The France left back had already been booked for hauling down the dangerous Sturridge at the start of the second half when he clipped Ramires as the Brazil midfielder charged through, giving referee Mark Clattenburg no option but to brandish a second yellow card.
Aguero, who wasted a golden chance to make it 2-0 in the 11th minute, and Silva were withdrawn as City looked to protect its point but some good defensive work by captain Vincent Kompany especially was undone by Lescott's blatant handball as he tried to block Sturridge's curling shot.
Lampard, who had replaced Meireles in the 72nd minute, stepped up to ram home the penalty down the middle and City had no time to react.
“I had a feeling in the second half that it was going to be our night,” Lampard said. “You've got to be big enough to stand up and take them (penalties) and I was very relieved when it hit the back of the net.”