A Stoke goal early in the second half decided the tea-time Premier League encounter in the Potteries.
It was another combative game at the Britannia and one in which Chelsea had more of the attacking play, especially in the first half and late on in the game, but the vital difference was Stoke took one of the chances that came their way and we did not.
Pedro striking the woodwork midway through the second period was the closest we came but by then Marko Arnautovic had found the net and that proved enough to inflict a third league defeat in a row on the Blues.
We had arrived with hopes of building on the morale-boosting win over Dynamo Kiev, and there were two changes to the starting line-up from that win in the Champions League on Wednesday. They were both in attacking positions with Eden Hazard and Pedro coming in for Oscar and Cesc Fabregas. The two introduced began in wide areas with Willian the player asked to operate in the middle behind Diego Costa.
Stoke, unchanged from their draw at Newcastle last time out, had the first effort within half-a-minute of the kick-off. Arnautovic hooked well over the bar.
Chelsea, wearing black armbands in memory of our former manager Bobby Campbell whose passing was announced earlier in the day and Remembrance poppies on our shirts too, steadily advanced to win a corner via Diego Costa, and it brought the first moment of chaos when Jack Butland did not connect properly with his punch on Willian’s delivery. The home side survived.
They were however disrupted on eight minutes when Pedro’s high kick caught Erik Pieters and blooded his nose. Play stopped for some minutes, giving time for plenty of singing from our fans for our manager, banned from the stadium today, and even for the odd familiar cardboard cut-out to appear.
The Stoke full-back could continue on and when the game restarted, Kurt Zouma cleared a Charlie Adam free-kick over the Chelsea bar and the Blues broke rapidly from the corner. Willian could have shot but instead moved the ball on which was eventually poked well wide by Ramires. From another promising attack moments later, Diego Costa was inches away from a Pedro cross at the far post.
Asmir Begovic, back on his old stomping ground for the second time this fortnight, pulled off a good stop from Glen Johnson with 16 minutes gone of what had been a lively first half so far.
It almost got even better for the Blues when Nemanja Matic forcefully won the ball to set us on an attack which ended with Butland tipping over the bar from Ramires’s fizzing, looping strike.
On 25 minutes, great play from deep by Pedro led to Hazard advancing down the left and hitting what initially appeared the perfect ball across goal. Diego Costa could not quite get there. The visitors were continuing to look the team most likely to open the scoring, as we had done in the Capital One Cup meeting here, although Jon Walters headed not far off target after Xherdan Shaqiri worked a cross past Baba Rahman.
Charlie Adam kicked Pedro on the half-hour but avoided a yellow card. Again shades of our game here 11 days ago.
Pedro, playing quite tucked in, was becoming an increasing presence in the game with his probing runs and passes, and it was from one such contribution that Diego Costa made space for a shot but then drilled it straight at the keeper.
Six minutes from the break Glenn Whelan was booked for tripping Hazard. Baba followed into the book soon after for catching Shaqiri.
Moments before the whistle there was concern for the Blues as Willian slipped and did a semi-splits. After treatment he was able to walk off the pitch for the half-time break but not entirely freely.
Looking at the bigger picture it still resembled the cup meeting, with Chelsea largely in control but without the breakthrough. What we needed to do was avoid conceding a Stoke goal from next to nothing as we did on that Tuesday night.
The first major incident of the second half was a forearm smash into the jumping Nemanja Matic from guess who? Charlie Adam; with guess what outcome? Words from the ref but no yellow card.
Sadly, the next major moment was Stoke taking the lead. A ball played between Baba and the central defence led to a cross which was knocked wide to Arnautovic who did well to volley it in. Begovic got a slight hand to the ball but it was not enough. There were 53 minutes on the clock, one more than the time of their opener in the Capital One Cup tie.
Ryan Shawcross was cautioned for sticking his arm into the throat of Diego Costa but Arnautovic escaped for barging into the back of Willian, who had suffered no lasting damage from his earlier slip.
The Blues needed to find a way back into this game and that meant more chances made and more shots. Hazard tried to get something going all on his own but fired over.
Arnautovic headed over the Chelsea bar as Stoke again broke through down our left but with the next attack Chelsea came within a whisker of an equaliser. Matic started the move with a well-weighted ball out to Hazard and when it came back inside, Pedro caught the Stoke defence flatfooted but his shot smashed against the post and fell to safety. So unfortunate!
Fabregas and Oscar were introduced for the final 20 minutes in place of Baba and Pedro. Ramires went to right-back with Azpilicueta on the left.
The Blues were increasingly hurrying Stoke into mistakes inside their own half but still the goal would not come. Remy came on for Ramires with the defence going to three at the back.
Remy was fouled for a free-kick from the right, not Willian’s favourite side, and disappointingly he could not clear the defence with his delivery
A minute later and with 10 left on the clock, Fabregas found Hazard for a low angled shot that deflected agonisingly wide in front of the Chelsea support.
Walters sliced a shot wide from a similar angle at the other end in Stoke’s first attack for some time.
We were back down the other end again and going close moments later. Oscar and Diego Costa sliced through the middle of the defence and Remy hurdled the out-rushing keeper, only to lose his footing. From the floor the Frenchman could not control his shot which missed.
Oscar, inside stoppage time, shot straight at Butland before Matic did very well to stop a threatening Stoke breakaway, but when a Willian low cross into the area was blocked, the final chance for a leveller had gone.
Yet again there was a tremendous show of support for the team and our manager from the travelling support as the players left the pitch, but there is now a two-week wait for an opportunity to improve our results as the international calendar intervenes.
Chelsea (4-2-3-1): Begovic; Azpilicueta, Zouma, Terry (c), Baba (Fabregas 71); Ramires (Remy 78), Matic; Pedro (Oscar 71), Willian, Hazard; Diego Costa.
Unused subs Amelia, Cahill, Mikel, Kenedy.
Booked Baba 45+2
Stoke (4-2-3-1): Butland; Johnson, Shawcross, Wollscheid, Pieters; Whelan, Adam (Afellay 78); Shaqiri (Biram Diouf,81), Bojan (Cameron 71), Arnautovic; Walters.
Unused subs Haugaard, Wilson, Ireland, Crouch.
Scorer Arnautovic 54
Booked Whelan 43, Shawcross 56, Johnson 90.
Referee Anthony Taylor