MATCH REPORT: STOKE CITY 3 CHELSEA 2
The Blues were beaten by a last-gasp Oussama Assaidi wonder strike at the Brittania Stadium, having taken an early lead in the game.
Andre Schurrle scored inside nine minutes, but while we dominated the opening 45 minutes for long periods, we were made to pay for missed chances three minutes before the break when Peter Crouch equalised from close range.
Five minutes into the second half Mark Hughes's side took the lead through Stephen Ireland, but we were back on terms within three minutes when Schurrle scored his second of the game - and third of the season - with a wonderful effort after Stoke had failed to clear a Juan Mata free-kick.
It was clear as the second half progressed that a piece of magic could prove decisive, and Assaidi intervened right at the death, condemning us to our third Premier League defeat of the season.
Jose Mourinho made two changes from the side which won 4-3 at Sunderland in midweek, with John Mikel Obi and Andre Schurrle coming in for Frank Lampard and Willian respectively, the Brazilian remaining in London due to illness. John Terry continued his run of starting every Premier League game this season on what was his 33rd birthday, while Cesar Azpilicueta was selected at left-back for the sixth game in a row. Juan Mata was handed a third successive start, with Schurrle named in the starting line-up for the first time since our 3-0 home win against Schalke. Fernando Torres once again led the line, with both Samuel Eto'o and Demba Ba on the bench.
Having scored 10 goals in our previous three Barclays Premier League matches, it was no surprise to see the Blues on the front foot early on, with Schurrle in particular looking alert and lively.
After the German had forced a corner inside the opening minute which ultimately came to nothing, he then produced the first real moment of quality, pouncing on a wayward ball in the Stoke half, driving to the byline and pulling it back into the path of Ramires, who fired over from a good position.
The warning signs were there for the hosts early on, and after only nine minutes we broke the deadlock.
Mikel picked the ball up just inside the Stoke half and played the ball forward into the feet of Schurrle, who took a touch before weaving in and out of Ryan Shawcross and firing a brilliant left-footed strike into the bottom corner.
It was a goal of the highest quality, and no more than Schurrle deserved for the positive manner in which he'd started the game.
The hosts were struggling to contain the movement of our attacking players in the final third, and moments later Mata saw his effort from the edge of the box, after Stoke had failed to deal with a Schurrle free-kick, well saved by Asmir Begovic.
Mark Hughes was forced to reshuffle his pack earlier then he would have hoped when Charlie Adam was forced out of the game with an injury, with Ireland replacing the midfielder after only 17 minutes.
Stoke, more often than not, were looking to utilise the aerial threat of Crouch once inside the Chelsea half, but Terry and Gary Cahill were more than standing up to the test during the opening exchanges.
Misplaced passes were a recurring theme for the home side during the opening 25 minutes, and from another one we almost doubled our lead. Mata reacted quickest to make the interception and fed Hazard; the Belgian rolled an inviting ball across the face of goal but there was a fraction too much pace on it for the advancing Torres.
Ramires was next to try his luck, but his curler, after being played in by an intelligent Schurrle pass, sailed high over the bar.
As the half-hour mark approached, Mourinho would have been pleased with his side's display, but if there was a concern it will have been our failure to make the most of our dominance.
The home supporters were forced to wait until eight minutes before the break to see their side register an attempt; a driving run by Steven Nzonzi saw the midfielder get to the byline, his cross was a decent one but, under pressure from Azpilicueta, Jonathan Walters could only direct his header into the side-netting.
They were almost made to rue that missed opportunity immediately as the Blues broke at speed, but Ramires, with options to his left and right, chose to go for goal, ensuring a comfortable save for Begovic, and it was a miss which would prove costly for ourselves minutes later.
Walters, scorer of two own-goals in last season's corresponding fixture, supplied a dangerous cross from the right which Ireland almost connected with, leaving Ramires to concede a corner as he defended the loose ball.
The delivery was swung in by Marko Arnautovic, and as the Chelsea defenders failed to deal with it effectively enough, the ball landed at the feet of Crouch, who scrambled it over the line to make it 1-1.
Having controlled the game for long spells it was difficult to take, and having conceded three times from set pieces in midweek it had happened again.
Their goal towards the end of the first half had visibly given Stoke a lift, and they started the second half the brighter of the two sides, forcing a couple of corners in quick succession.
We were struggling to deal with the tempo they'd set, and only five minutes after the restart we fell behind.
Walters was released down the right-hand side, where he quickly switched it inside to the unmarked Ireland. With the Chelsea defenders retreating, the substitute was allowed to advance towards goal, and he caught everybody by surprise with an early strike which clipped the foot of the post and rolled into the back of the net.
It was a bad start to the half, but our response was both immediate and emphatic as we hit back within three minutes.
Mata swung a free-kick in to the Stoke box from deep inside their half; it was cleared, but only as far as Schurrle, who crashed a powerful left-footed drive into the back of the net, doubling his own tally for the afternoon but, more significantly, netting a crucial equaliser.
It was developing into wonderful spectacle, but from a Chelsea perspective there remained plenty of work to do.
The game was almost turned on its head once more when Schurrle, enjoying one of his finest displays in a blue shirt, spun on the edge of the box and sent a dipping strike over the despairing dive of Begovic, only to see the ball drop against the top of the bar and fall behind.
Our first substitution of the afternoon saw Ba replace Torres just before the hour, but it was Stoke who should have restored their lead nine minutes later when Ireland passed up a glorious opportunity, firing inches over the bar from a Crouch lay-off.
It really was pulsating stuff, with both sets of supporters sensing their team could win the game, and with 21 minutes left on the clock Mourinho made a double substitution, replacing Mikel and injured Schurrle with Frank Lampard and Samuel Eto'o.
With neither side prepared to settle for a point the game ebbed and flowed, and it became apparent that the contest may be decided by a piece of individual brilliance or a mistake.
Eto'o went close with his first attempt as we pressed forward, rolling one inches wide of Begovic's left-hand post, with the striker, in a crowded penalty area, unable to find the space which would have enabled him to generate more power behind the strike.
As the game entered its final 10 minutes Ba was awarded a free-kick right on the edge of the Stoke penalty area after being brought down as he collected a Hazard pass following an enterprising run by the Belgian.
Mata and Lampard stood over the ball, and it was the latter who took the kick, firing low and hard towards goal, but straight down the throat of Begovic.
As the clock ticked towards the 90th minute, however, all our hard work was undone when Stoke scored what would prove to be the winning goal.
The ball was worked out to the substitute Oussama Assaidi wide on the left-hand side, where initially there appeared to be little danger. Assaidi, though, cut inside, and as a gap opened up, he fired an unstoppable strike beyond Cech and into the top corner of the net.
The quality of the strike was such that as the player celebrated over by the dugouts he was given a tap on the head by Mourinho, with the Portguese aware there was very little anybody could have done stop it.
Chelsea (4-2-3-1): Cech; Ivanovic, Cahill, Terry (c), Azpilicueta; Ramires, Mikel (Lampard 70); Schurrle (Eto'o 70), Mata, Hazard; Torres (Ba 59).
Unused substitutes: Schwarzer, Cole, Essien, De Bruyne.
Scorers Schurrle 9, 52
Booked Terry 85
Stoke City (4-4-1-1): Begovic; Cameron, Shawcross (c), Wilson, Muniesa; Walters (Assaidi 83), Whelan (Palacios 86), Nzonzi, Arnautovic; Adam (Ireland 18); Crouch.
Unused substitutues: Sorensen, Wilkinson, Pennant, Jones.
Scorers Crouch 41, Ireland 50, Assaidi 89
Booked Crouch 80, Walters 82, Assaidi 90, Ireland 90.
Referee Jonathan Moss