Chelsea crashed to their first defeat of the season against Wigan at the DW Stadium on Saturday afternoon. Didier Drogba’s equaliser straight after half time looked to have got the Blues back on track after they had endured a torrid first half. Moments later, however, Petr Cech was sent off for felling Hugo Rodallega and the Colombian scored the resulting penalty to put the Latics back in front, a position from which Chelsea never recovered.
The away team started brightly enough with both Michael Essien and Nicolas Anelka going close in the opening stages. Wigan slowly began to assert themselves in the game though and soon took the lead. Cech parried a Jason Scotland shot out for a corner from which Titus Bramble was left unmarked to head home a well worked short corner. This started a quite dreadful spell from Chelsea, who looked incapable of actually putting two passes together. Wigan were playing like the team who had won all their matches this season and seventeen out of their last nineteen in the Premier League. A fantastic counter-attack saw the brilliant Paul Scharner nearly slip in Scotland, who himself was denied moments later by a sliding John Terry. Wigan really should have doubled their lead in the 39th minute when another disastrously defended corner resulted in Emmerson Boyce shooting straight at Cech from four yards out, the Czech stopper doing excellently to deny another goalscoring Wigan centre half.
The half time whistle couldn’t come quickly enough and Wigan were rightly given a standing ovation by those who had come to see their team try and beat a ‘top four’ side at the 35th time of asking. An injured and ineffective Mikel was replaced by Juliano Belletti at the interval, and it seemed that whatever Ancelotti had said (in Italian apparently) had the desired effect when Chelsea equalized two minutes into the second period. A dazzling run from Malouda, which saw him glide past four Wigan players, was followed by a low cross; Drogba met it on the full, and although it was straight at Chris Kirkland it squirmed through him to trickle over the line. The travelling Chelsea contingent would have been forgiven for thinking this would mark the start of another comeback, especially when Terry nearly scored in the following minute, denied expertly by Boyce.
Instead though it was Wigan who scored next to regain a lead they didn’t deserve to have thrown away. A slick move involving Scotland, Charles N’Zogbia (a constant thorn in the Chelsea defence) and Rodallega saw the former delightfully set up the latter. The Colombian rounded Cech and was clearly fouled. It was undoubtedly a penalty and a straight red card. Hilario was summoned on for his second appearance in four days, in place of Malouda, but could nothing about Rodallega’s penalty. From then on Chelsea faced an uphill struggle; if they hadn’t been playing badly enough already they now only had ten men. Ancelotti sent on Kalou and switched to something resembling a 3-3-3 formation. Their passing actually improved as they sought to salvage a draw out of nothing. A Belletti long throw almost saw Drogba score again, Kalou blasted over when well placed while Lampard saw a header fly over the bar. In truth Bramble and Boyce were proving tough to break down, while Diame and Hendry Thomas were proving excellent shields.
With Chelsea throwing caution to the wind it was no surprise when Wigan finally grabbed a third goal their decisive play deserved. With Ashley Cole off the pitch injured, Chelsea only had nine men on the pitch. Another well worked move released Maynor Figueroa whose cross was tapped home at the far post by Scharner. The plight of Chelsea’s situation was only emphasized by the fact that the only two Chelsea players in sight were Essien and Kalou.
So in truth it was a very bad day at the office for Chelsea, but huge credit must go to Wigan and their manager Roberto Martinez for sensing and then seizing the initiative, attacking Chelsea throughout and for the frankly exceptional performance of every single one of their players. The same can sadly not be said of a Chelsea team which looked overconfident and surprised in equal measure. They now face a trip to Cyprus in midweek before what many regarded as the first real test of the season; Liverpool next Sunday.