Aston Villa came into today's match against league-leading Chelsea knowing fully that a point or more would be a tough task. Nevertheless, they put together a very solid first half that showed they were not going to roll over against the Blues. The highlight of the entire half came in the 41st minute when it seemed as if Nemanja Matic had scored to make a strong Villa half count for nothing. But then the ref blew his whistle and pointed to the spot of the kick, indicating that the goal was disallowed as a handball. Here's a look at the play:
It looks like a handball to me, but I am of course biased. Elsewhere in the half, Villa played exceptionally well, despite being bossed in the possession battle. Joe Bennett, facing Eden Hazard, was Villa's best defender, though the entire back line looked strong. Up front, Villa were creating chances and Christian Benteke looked eager to score, but they couldn't convert on anything. Heading into the half 0-0 was a fair representation of the work both teams had put in.
The second half saw Chelsea assert their status as the clearly better team, though. They came out pressuring Villa, and only the tenacious nature of the home side's bend-don't-break defense saw them keep the visitors off the board. Seemingly every time Villa tried an attack, they'd fall victim to the errant pass in the final third that we saw doom the club against Newcastle.
In the 68th minute, though, Villa were given a ray of hope, when Willian was given his second yellow of the match and was sent off. Looking at the replay, it was a bad call by the ref. Was it a foul? Sure. Was it a cardable offense? Heavens no. But far be it from the Aston Villa-Chelsea series to be without controversy. So Villa had 20+ minutes to play a man up. Around the 80th minute, it seemed as if a switch flipped and Villa began attacking like a crazed team.
It paid off in the 82nd, when Fabian Delph was able to convert a quick Villa counter to give the home team a 1-0 lead.
It's more amazing when you see the beautiful build-up play that led to the goal:
After the goal, Chelsea imploded. In stoppage time, with about 90 seconds left, Ramires sent in a savage tackle on Karim El Ahmadi and get red carded. Jose Mourinho came out to argue it and got himself sent off as well. Villa, of course, were able to hold on for the win.
And now the club sit on 34 points with 9 matches remaining. Suddenly, Ryan Bertrand's hope of finishing 9th doesn't seem so crazy. The world is a wonderful place today. Go out and celebrate, Villa fans. Have a drink or seven. For we have toppled the league leaders.