Fabio Borini’s 81st-minute penalty consigned us to our maiden league defeat at Stamford Bridge under Jose Mourinho. It was the Portuguese’s 78th game in charge of Chelsea at our home ground.
Not only does the loss signal the end of that astonishing run, it also gives Liverpool a huge advantage in the race for the title.
We started brightly and took the lead through Samuel Eto’o’s close-range volley but our visitors hit back soon after through Connor Wickham after Mark Schwarzer, standing in for the ill Petr Cech, couldn’t hold Marcos Alonso’s volley.
Branislav Ivanovic hit the bar before the interval and Eto’o, Demba Ba and Fernando Torres went close after it but it was Sunderland who went home with the points after Cesar Azpilicueta felled substitute Jozy Altidore and Borini, on loan from Liverpool, converted with ease.
Unlike so often before when we have faced an uphill task at this stadium there was no late reprieve and it was left to Mourinho to congratulate his counterpart Gus Poyet at the final whistle.
Petr Cech was suffering from a minor illness so Mark Schwarzer deputised, making his first Premier League appearance for the Blues. Ahead of the Australian was the same back four that had started our prior 12 games.
Ramires partnered Nemanja Matic in central midfield while there was a third consecutive league start for Mohamed Salah. Alongside him were the Brazilian duo of Willian and Oscar – beginning his first league game in four – with Eto’o chosen to lead the line.
A strong Chelsea bench included David Luiz, Frank Lampard and recent goalscoring hero Demba Ba.
Poyet, returning to Stamford Bridge for the first time as a manager, kept faith with the same 11 that had so impressively earned a point at Manchester City in midweek.
The Blues began on the front foot as you would expect from a team hoping to reach the Premier League summit with Salah – positioned on the right of the attacking trio – particularly lively.
Despite plenty of possession in and around the Sunderland box it was our visitors who threatened first. Wickham controlled a long ball forward and cleverly flicked it into Borini’s path, but from just outside the box our former striker lashed his shot well wide.
That was on 10 minutes and barely 60 seconds later we had the lead.
Eto’o danced his way into the box past a couple of flimsy challenges before being well-tackled by the sliding Vergini. The Cameroonian was not to be denied for long, though. Willian swung over the corner and the poacher got free of his man to thump a close-range volley home for his 12th Chelsea goal.
Any hope that advantage would set us on our way to a comfortable late afternoon at the Bridge ended soon after. Sunderland won a corner of their own which was played to the unmarked Alonso, loitering on the edge of the box. His volley was well-hit and not held by Schwarzer – perhaps unsighted by a crowd of bodies in front of him – with Wickham in the right place to lift the ball over our keeper.
The first goal we had conceded at our home ground in almost 10 hours, a run dating back to 19 January, unsurprisingly appeared to unsettle our side. Gary Cahill was required to produce a vital interception almost immediately as Sunderland sought a quick second.
A pair of Oscar long shots, including from one free-kick, called Mannone into action while John Terry had the ball in the net only to see his celebrations cut short by the assistant’s flag, raised for a foul by Matic on Colback.
Again a Willian corner delivered from in front of the travelling Mackems caused havoc. Ivanovic met it with a towering header that Mannone spooned up onto the underside of his bar. The spinning ball fell back to earth favourably for the keeper who pouched it on the line.
Chelsea pressure was mounting now. Matic tried his luck from range and the shot was too hot for Mannone to handle. Salah got to the loose ball first and tried to square it to Eto’o but the Italian stuck a paw out to intercept. Azpilicueta then returned with interest and a contest in the box ended with a penalty appeal for handball against Alonso – not given.
Salah showed exceptional speed to retrieve a long ball on 40 minutes, and while Willian got to his centre first Mannone was again on hand to keep it out. The ball looped up and it looked for all the world like Ramires would nod into the empty net but under considerable pressure from Wes Brown he headed wide.
The half-time whistle was almost sounded at the ended of a frantic and occasionally fractious opening 45 when Azpilicueta was robbed by Adam Johnson close to his box. By the time the winger worked it onto his preferred left foot our Spaniard had dashed back to intercept and the danger was over.
We were not having it all our own way.
We restarted kicking towards the Matthew Harding Stand for the 18th straight home game and within a couple of minutes almost retook the lead.
Ivanovic launched a counter-attack after dealing with a Sunderland corner and Willian scurried away with the ball, covering plenty of ground. He had Salah to his right but chose to go left to Eto’o, whose first-time curler bent agonisingly wide of the far post.
Eto’o had a decent claim for a penalty as he attacked a corner but aside from that time spent in the final third was largely futile for the next quarter-of-an-hour.
In search of some more decisive play in that part of the pitch Jose Mourinho sent on Demba Ba, the goalscoring hero in our two most recent matches, with 59 gone. Within five minutes the change almost had the desired impact.
Ba did well to play in Willian and he set it back to the Senegalese but, on the stretch from eight yards out, the striker skewed his shot wide.
Almost immediately Andre Schurrle was introduced in place of Salah. The German’s first involvement saw him cut in from the left and strike for goal; a deflection took the pace off it and Ba nipped in but was thwarted by Mannone.
Torres was the next attacking option thrown on and from two corners he threatened. First a bicycle-kick flashed over before he headed straight at Mannone from a tight angle.
Unthinkably, Sunderland then snatched the lead.
Azpilicueta carried the ball out of defence but slipped allowing substitute Jozy Altidore a run on goal. Harrying back to try and reverse a very dangerous situation our Spaniard went to ground, well in advance of the American’s path. He crumpled to the turf and the assistant’s flag went straight up. Penalty.
After some delay Borini stepped up and stroked his spot-kick down the middle. An agitated Rui Faria’s complaints on the touchline went too far and he was sent to the stands.
Schurrle drew a flying stop out of Mannone immediately and as our desperation mounted Torres had a penalty appeal – our umpteenth of the match – waved away.
Five minutes of injury-time were signalled and the closest we came in that period was from a John Terry header, well-met but straight at Mannone.
Our unbeaten home league run under Jose Mourinho was confirmed by Mike Dean, the referee leaving the pitch to a chorus of boos from a startled Stamford Bridge faithful who had witnessed history today.
Chelsea (4-2-3-1): Schwarzer; Ivanovic, Cahill, Terry (c), Azpilicueta; Ramires, Matic; Willian, Oscar (Ba 59), Salah (Schurrle 65); Eto’o (Torres 73).
Unused subs Hilario, David Luiz, Mikel, Lampard, Torres.
Scorer Eto’o 11
Booked Torres 90+1
Sunderland (4-1-4-1): Mannone; Vergini, Brown, O’Shea (c), Alonso; Cattermole; Johnson (Giaccherini 65), Larsson (Celustka 90+2), Colback, Borini; Wickham (Altidore 65).
Unused subs Ustari, Mavrias, Ba, Scocco.
Scorer Wickham 17, Borini (pen) 81
Booked Cattermole 55, Brown 72
Referee Mike Dean