Two goals from Erin Cuthbert couldn't prevent the Blues' 11-match winning run coming to an end, as Birmingham City edged a thriller at Kingsmeadow.
Chelsea went ahead early on through a wonderful diving header from Cuthbert, which was set up by former Birmingham winger Karen Carney, who became the first player to reach 30 WSL assists. However, the visitors turned the game around with two goals out of nowhere either side of half-time and it took a free-kick from our No22 to draw us level deep into the contest. From there it looked as though only one side would win it, but Ellen White popped up to volley a last-gasp winner for Birmingham to settle a remarkable contest.
Two weeks have passed since our win at Arsenal, achieved thanks to a brace from Cuthbert, since when many of our players spent time away with their national teams, returning on Thursday. Even so, Emma Hayes was still able to name a starting XI sporting only two changes, with Hedvig Lindahl and Millie Bright making way for Carly Telford and Anita Asante, making her first WSL start in almost a year.
The duo made up part of our back five, which also boasted Hannah Blundell and Jonna Andersson as our two full-backs and Magdalena Eriksson in the centre alongside Asante. After that it was the same midfield and attack which saw off the Gunners, so Drew Spence and Sophie Ingle lined up behind Cuthbert, Ji So-Yun and Karen Carney. Bethany England started in attack once again, making her 50th appearance for the club, a milestone also brought up by Ingle in this fixture.
England almost enjoyed a dream start to her half-century as she called Hannah Hampton into action inside the first minute. An immaculate touch from the Blues No15 freed up a yard of space on the edge of the penalty box and she didn't need a second invitation to try and add to her team-leading tally of 12 goals, firing a powerful shot which stung the palms of the keeper.
We didn't have to wait long for our opener, though, as Cuthbert carried on exactly as she left off before the international break with a goal of the highest quality. Carney was the creator, chasing a pass down the left channel and just about keeping it in; then, in the blink of an eye, she'd nutmegged a defender and clipped a delightful ball into the box for Cuthbert to power home a diving header. The Kingsmeadow crowd rose in approval of an effort which will surely be in contention when the Goal of the Season voting opens in a few months.
There was a slight lull in proceedings after that, as Chelsea controlled the game without creating too many clear-cut opportunities, while the visitors offered little in attack. Our goalscorer blazed a shot over the bar when well placed, while Spence tested the handling of Hampton with a low drive from the edge of the box.
Then, out of nothing, we found ourselves level after being caught out by a Birmingham sucker punch. The visitors had not tested Telford, let alone created a chance, as we entered the final 10 minutes of the half, but a slick move ended with Emma Follis scoring from close range. It earned them parity at the interval which was scarcely deserved.
The goal clearly gave them confidence going into the second half, as the best opportunity in the early reckoning fell to their goalscorer. Follis was sent clean through on goal, with time and space to pick her spot, and though she slid it past Telford, the ball missed the far post by a matter of inches.
As we reached the final third of this contest, Hayes rolled the dice with an attacking double substitution, bringing on Fran Kirby and Ramona Bachmann for Spence and England, but soon we needed more than just one goal as Birmingham took the lead. Once again it came from nowhere, this time through Lucy Quinn, who smashed a hopeful shot which dipped at the last second to catch out Telford at the far post.
Another Chelsea change followed, with Jess Carter introduced in place of Carney, but we struggled to rediscover the attacking fluency that was on display at times in the first half. One half-chance fell to Ji, who had half a yard of space on the edge of the area but dragged her shot wide of the target.
It was looking like being one of those afternoons until Lady Luck finally smiled down on us with a little over five minutes remaining. Cuthbert floated a free-kick to the back stick in the direction of Asante and though the centre-half couldn't get a touch, it mattered not as the ball bounced up and over Hampton to draw us level.
Surely now there would only be one winner? Wave after wave of Chelsea attack followed, but deep into stoppage time there was another twist. Birmingham broke and Follis crossed, and there was former Chelsea striker White to direct a left-footed volley over Telford. It was an incredible end to a thrilling game, played out in front of more than 2,000 supporters who more than got their money's worth.
After the end of our long winning run, ttention now turns to our FA Cup defence, which begins next Sunday with a trip to Everton. Then it's back to Kingsmeadow in another competition, the Continental Tyres League Cup, with a semi-final match against Manchester City on Wednesday 6 February.
Chelsea (4-2-3-1) Telford; Blundell, Asante, Eriksson, Andersson; Ingle, Spence (Kirby 60); Cuthbert, Ji, Carney (c) (Carter 69); England (Bachmann 60)
Unused subs Berger, Cooper, Mjelde, Engman
Scorers Cuthbert 13, 84
Booked Bachmann 62
Birmingham Hampton, Williams, Sergeant (Mayling 46), Ladd, Harrop (c), Arthur, Quinn (White 69), Follis (Walker 90), Wellings, Mannion, Staniforth
Unused subs Brooks, Ewers, Scofield, Hayles
Scorers Follis 35, Quinn 61, White 90
Booked Staniforth 83
Referee Helen Conley