Relegation-threatened Sunderland took the lead at Stamford Bridge today but couldn’t hang on as Chelsea won 2-1 and rose to third in the Premier League.
What at face value seemed surprising – the visitors going ahead – wasn’t really that shocking in context. You might have expected Sunderland’s players to make a roaring start to impress their curiously-sweatered new boss, while six of Chelsea’s weary starters began against Rubin Kazan in the Europa League three days prior.
One of those was Spain defender Cesar Azpilicueta, who put a sprightly Sunderland 1-0 up shortly before half-time by steering Adam Johnson’s corner into his own goal.
It was almost inevitable that Chelsea would be stung into more meaningful action after that, but Rafael Benitez’ side, ordinary for much of the contest, benefited from two lucky breaks.
A pass from half-time substitute Fernando Torres found Oscar, whose shot was saved by Simon Mignolet. But the rebound looped off defender Matt Kilgallon for the match’s second own-goal in the space of a couple of minutes.
There was more fortune with 55 minutes gone as Branislav Ivanovic deflected in a long-range attempt from David Luiz.
With Tottenham only drawing with Everton across London a little earlier, the result lifted Chelsea above them into third on goal difference, dropping Arsenal to fifth.
Next up for Sunderland? Only the small matter of the Tyne-Wear derby, a trip to local rivals Newcastle United a week today. And Newcastle should be extra-buoyant for that one after beating Fulham 1-0 today thanks to a late winner from Papiss Cisse that lifted them to 13th and goes a long way to easing their own relegation concerns.
Black Cats fans had better hope that Di Canio’s tactics prove sharper than his fashion sense. That sort of style has no place outside a golf course. Frankly, Paolo, we expect better. You’re Italian.