Chelsea effectively sealed a top-four finish for the season and Frank Lampard made history in a dramatic game at Villa Park.
The Blues came back from conceding early on and going down to 10 men, the vice-captain netting twice in the second half to pass Bobby Tambling and reach 203 Chelsea goals – the all-time club record
The goals were fitting ones to reach such a milestone – a trademark, unstoppable smash followed by a right-place-at-the-right-time tap-in.
Both teams had a player sent-off – Ramires and Christian Benteke committing second bookable offences, both foot-high challenges, with the Chelsea midfielder dismissed just before the interval and the Villa striker midway through the second-half.
Chelsea were also denied a goal by a debatable goal-line decision but the two goals were enough to ensure that with a much superior goal difference, Tottenham are unlikely to overtake us in the table.
The sight of John Terry taken off late in the game on a stretcher and Eden Hazard also limping off were not so good news.
John Terry, Lampard, Victor Moses and Demba Ba all returned to the side with Branislav Ivanovic, David Luiz, Oscar and Fernando Torres the players making way.
Villa were forced in to one change. Right-back Matthew Lowton failed a late fitness test so missed his first game of the season. His replacement was Eric Lichaj.
For the second game running the potential reward was the same. A win would effectively mean entry to Champions League football next season but it became clear early on that it was not going to be an easy final away league game of the season.
It didn’t feel like May in the Midlands with drizzle falling on a cool early afternoon as the players exited a tunnel located in one corner at this stadium, and there was plenty of surface water as the game kicked off.
A couple of crisp tackles were engaged before Nathan Baker’s third-minute scissor challenge on Juan Mata on halfway that earned Villa an early booking.
Agbonlahor tried to take on Terry with his first counter-attacking run but the Chelsea skipper read the situation and blocked off to earn his side a goal-kick.
Villa, though seeing plenty of the ball in the early stages, were finding it hard to play out of their own half without making unforced or pressured mistakes. Chelsea’s early attacking threat was limited to a testing Hazard cross.
When the home side did take the lead on 14 minutes there were shades of the goal Emmanuel Adebayor had been allowed to score for Spurs midweek. Given the ball by Fabian Delph, Christian Benteke was allowed to run along way on the left-side of the pitch. There was no long-range shot this time. Instead the Belgian took on Gary Cahill and found the space for a shot that beat Cech just inside the near post.
Ramires was booked soon after for a foul on Benteke and Delph then skipped away from a challenge from the Brazilian and sent a shot skipping off the roof of the net. Chelsea needed to raise our game quickly.
Midway through the half Mata chipped one of his typical balls over the defence that Ba managed to bring down but found Brad Guzan right up upon him, allowing the keeper to block the shot.
There was hope for Chelsea in that Villa were looking to have a goal-costing mistake in them, and such sloppiness around their area led to Hazard winning a free-kick. This was Lampard territory and his low shot was initially parried by Guzan but rolled onto the post. The keeper recovered just in time to stop Cahill following up.
Azpilicueta was on the painful end of a swung arm from Benteke that earned another yellow card. Despite the Villa fans’ protestations, it was an offence that on occasions would have been punished with a red.
The cards were coming thick and fast now, Terry the next recipient of a booking for tripping Yacouba Sylla who had just taken the ball off Ramires.
A minute before the break came the one that made the afternoon’s task a whole lot harder. Ramires was whistled up for a boot-high challenge on Agbonlahor in the centre of the park and this booking was his second of the game.
The next 45 minutes for a now 10-man Chelsea would need a far better display than the first half if we were to seal the top-four finish before the final day of the season.
Rafael Benitez made a half-time change. David Luiz came on in midfield with Moses off and Mata moving wide. The shape was pretty much 4-4-1.
There were going to be spaces for Villa to sit back and counter-attack this half, as Agbonlahor demonstrated early on until Cahill eventually cut out a cross.
Weimann kicked air when well-placed to test Cech and Delph and Agbonlahor were wayward with shots. Joe Bennett went closer with a 54th-minute deflected effort.
It had been almost entirely Villa’s second half but on 57 minutes fortunes changed again. Benteke’s boot was high and straight into the chest of Terry. Referee Lee Mason had no choice but to be consistent and show a yellow card. It was the striker’s second and numbers were now even. Agbonlahor took over as centre-forward.
The momentum was back with Chelsea and it was history-man Lampard that took advantage, receiving the ball just inside the area and making space before hammering the ball with his left-foot past Guzan who had no chance. There were great celebrations but still a job to do with half an hour remaining.
We were fortunate when Lichaj’s shot only just cleared the bar after deflecting off Hazard and Villa were having another good spell.
But then Chelsea came back strongly again and there was the closest of close goal-line calls that didn’t go our way. Cahill’s shot was initially blocked by Sylla right on the line and as Ba pounced, Westwood was adjudged to have cleared with millimetres to spare. That was all it could have been.
With quarter of an hour to go Terry was carried off on a stretcher having appeared to damage an ankle in a collision following a corner. The skipper was clearly in some pain.
The search for a winner went on without him. Lampard headed a clear chance over and Mata struck a free-kick wide. David Luiz fired a longer-range free-kick on target but Guzan palmed it out.
Cech saved well from Westwood before a moment that will be indelibly marked in the Chelsea history books.
Hazard and Mata were at their best inside the box to make the chance and when the Belgian fired the ball low across the goal, there was Lampard four yards out to slam it in. How that goal was celebrated in front of the travelling support! There were two minutes left on the clock with another seven added for stoppages.
Hazard before the end joined Terry as an injury casualty with what looked like a muscle problem – not good news ahead of Amsterdam.
Villa laid a mini-siege on the Chelsea goal but substitute Ivanovic did very well to head a Delph shot over the bar.
The final whistle blew and all the team gathered to congratulate each other before leaving the stage to Chelsea’s No.8.
Chelsea (4-2-3-1): Cech; Azpilicueta, Cahill, Terry (c) (Ivanovic 76), Cole; Ramires, Lampard; Hazard, Mata, Moses (David Luiz 88); Ba (Torres 87).
Unused subs Turnbull, Ake, Benayoun, Oscar.
Scorer Lampard 60, 88.
Sent off Ramires 44.
Booked Ramires 16, Terry 41, Lampard 83.
Villa (4-3-3): Guzan; Lichaj, Vlaar (c), Baker, Bennett; Sylla, Westwood, Delph; Weimann, Benteke, Agbonlahor.
Unused subs: Given, Gardner, N’Zogbia, Williams, Holman, Bent, Bowery.
Scorer Benteke 14.
Sent-off Benteke 57.
Booked Baker 3,Benteke 34.
Referee Lee Mason