Chelsea’s defence of the Capital One Cup came to an end on a frustrating night in Stoke, where we had the better of much of the match.
Having come from behind to force extra-time at the end of 90 minutes through substitute Loic Remy, we dominated but could not break down a resilient Stoke, who were reduced to 10 men but were inspired by the excellent Jack Butland in goal, who would be their penalty shootout hero, saving from Eden Hazard.
We had fallen behind shortly after half-time when Jonathan Walters smashed home from outside the area, a rare attempt on goal from the home side who had to soak up long spells of Chelsea pressure.
Remy’s injury-time equaliser and Phil Bardsley’s sending off looked to have turned the tide in our favour, but Butland’s heroics during extra-time and then in the shootout means our League Cup run comes to a premature end.
Injury to Diego Costa, who had looked at his threatening best during the first half, brings concern ahead of Liverpool’s visit to Stamford Bridge on Saturday lunchtime, but there were also positives to take home from the Britannia Stadium.
For long periods throughout the night the Blues were on top, Oscar and Hazard probing away to good effect in an entertaining first half, while we showed exceptional character to draw level at the death.
Jose Mourinho made three changes to the side beaten at West Ham. Baba Rahman and Oscar were chosen in place of Cesar Azpilicueta and Cesc Fabregas, while suspension ruled out Nemanja Matic with John Mikel Obi starting in his place. Seven of this Chelsea side started at Wembley in our most recent League Cup final win in March, while in goal Asmir Begovic returned to the club he called home for five-and-a-half years until the summer.
The hosts were without Chelsea loanee Marco van Ginkel, who was ineligible to face his parent club, while of their former Blues, Steve Sidwell was on the bench and Glen Johnson was not involved.
Diego Costa, a goalscorer at Wembley when we lifted this trophy, was certainly in the mood and twice came close inside the opening five minutes, first seeing a low drive deflected behind and then a near-post stab blocked by Butland.
Another foray into the box by the forward almost brought an opener, though after he turned his marker inside out and shot low on his left foot, a combination of Philipp Wollscheid, Glenn Whelan and the onrushing Hazard somehow conspired to keep the ball out as it ricocheted around a busy six-yard box.
At the opposite end Charlie Adam’s fierce drive was met head on by Gary Cahill, while Begovic comfortably gathered Mame Biram Diouf’s low shot, Stoke’s first on target.
Oscar was chopped down by Phil Bardsley shortly afterwards, but picked himself up to bring the best from Butland, who tipped over the Brazilian’s curling effort.
A heavy tackle from Diouf on birthday boy Zouma brought a delay to proceedings, but the Frenchman was able to continue following treatment. While he was off the field, Oscar flashed another shot across goal and wide.
The first 20 minutes had belonged to Chelsea, who had looked more vibrant than in recent weeks, Oscar and Hazard dazzling between the lines while Diego Costa was at his troublesome best against the returning Ryan Shawcross.
Just as Chelsea were beginning to dominate, Stoke almost took the lead. A decent move inside the Chelsea half ended with defender Marc Muniesa attempting an overhead kick, which with the aid of a deflection landed on the roof of Begovic’s net.
That was to be an isolated event though as Chelsea poured forward again. Hazard and Baba combined to set Ramires through, but after rounding Butland, he could only hit the side netting. In the build-up, Hazard also received a forearm block from Shawcross, who was fortunate not to be booked.
An earlier heavy fall did for Diego Costa, who was forced off through injury. Loic Remy was the replacement.
Hazard’s snapshot forced another smart save from Butland, and then John Terry smartly turned in Willian’s low cross only for the offside flag to disallow the goal.
Right on half-time, Begovic made his first meaningful save of the game, denying Jonathan Waters at point blank range after Diouf had clipped into the area. It was the last major action of the opening period.
Chelsea had produced a promising first-half display, lacking only a goal, but had crucially lost the main focal point of our attack in Diego Costa.
There were no changes to either side at the break, but the game was turned on its head six minutes into the second half when Stoke took the lead against the run of play.
Whelan’s drive forward into Chelsea territory set up Walters, who let fly with an unstoppable drive from the edge of the area, evading Begovic and crashing in off the underside of the crossbar.
It was a tough blow but the Blues responded well and were soon seeking an equaliser. Shawcross’s rash tackle on Remy allowed Willian a look at goal from a free-kick, but uncharacteristically of late, he curled over and into the Chelsea fans packing the stand behind the goal.
Shortly afterwards Willian was the victim of a late tackle by Adam, whose studs plunged into the Brazilian’s thigh after the ball had gone. The Stoke man escaped punishment with the referee, seemingly unsighted, awarding Chelsea a throw-in.
Following treatment, Willian was back up and involved, drawing a straightforward save from Butland as the game entered its final quarter.
Zouma then rattled the outside of the post as we inflicted more pressure, Mourinho having introduced the attack-minded Kenedy in place of Baba, with Ramires moving to left-back and Oscar dropping deeper into midfield. The sub managed another shot on target, but not enough to beat Butland.
Just as time was running out, fans were contemplating the long journey home and four minutes of added time had been indicated, the visitors finally drew level.
Willian’s left-sided corner was flicked on by Zouma and Remy was on hand to fire into the roof of the net from close range. To say it was a deserved leveller would be an understatement.
In the remaining time before the final whistle, Bardsley saw a second yellow card for a crude challenge on a quickly breaking Kenedy, meaning Chelsea could take a man advantage into the forthcoming 30 minutes of extra-time.
After the restart Hazard flashed an effort narrowly wide and then Bertrand Traore met a Willian cross on the run but couldn’t test Butland with his header. At the other end, Marko Arnautovic bent wide.
An already open game was opening still further, Chelsea’s 11 men were finding spaces in the Stoke defence.
Hazard’s low drive brought a corner off Butland, then subsitute Traore saw his shot deflected into the side netting.
In the second period, Willian’s long-ranger looked to have Butland beaten but hit the side netting, and then the keeper denied Traore with his feet. Chelsea were knocking at the door, but Stoke, and their goalkeeper in particular, were proving resilient.
Oscar’s cross-field pass to Kenedy almost saw the youngster beat the England Under-21 keeper, under pressure from Xherdan Shaqiri, but he just managed to tip the ball around the post. It was a save that would secure a penalty shootout.
Stoke would take first, in front of their own supporters.
Adam converted hard and low. Willian side-footed home in response. 1-1.
Peter Odemwingie curled high, Oscar rolled low. 2-2.
Shaqiri smashed right, Remy found the top-left corner. 3-3.
Wilson found the net, as did Zouma. 4-4. Effectively sudden death.
Arnautovic blasted home, and Butland saved well from Hazard, pushing the ball up and over the bar. 5-4 Stoke, and Chelsea’s Capital One Cup run was over.
Having clawed it back at the last, the Blues found ourselves floored once more. We will need to pick ourselves up quickly before the weekend.
Stoke City (4-2-3-1): Butland; Bardsley, Shawcross (c), Wollscheid, Muniesa (Wilson 49); Whelan, Adam; Diouf, Afellay (Shaqiri 76), Arnautovic; Walters (Odemwingie 90).
Unused subs Given, Ireland, Sidwell, Crouch.
Scorer Walters 52
Sent off Bardsley 90+2
Booked Bardsley 17, Wilson 81
Chelsea (4-2-3-1): Begovic; Zouma, Cahill, Terry (c), Baba (Kenedy 71); Ramires (Traore 80), Mikel; Willian, Oscar, Hazard; Diego Costa (Remy 32).
Unused subs Amelia, Djilobodji, Azpilicueta, Loftus-Cheek.
Scorer Remy 90
Booked Baba 36
Referee Kevin Friend