LONDON • The Premier League's title race had its unanticipated twist yesterday. Chelsea, untouchable for so long at the top of this division, succumbed to a team who have spent almost the entire campaign submerged in the grind of a relegation battle.
For the second season in succession, this corner of south-west London has been conquered by Crystal Palace - with the same 2-1 scoreline.
Blues manager Antonio Conte has spent the last few months preaching caution, insisting the title has not yet been secured, and this was evidence to prove him right.
With Manchester City's visit on Wednesday, the recovery from the stumble must be immediate.
The match had boasted all the early signs of a procession, though it had quickly degenerated into a contest the type of which Chelsea have become unfamiliar this term.
The ease with which Cesc Fabregas had poked them ahead in the fifth minute suggested a comfortable afternoon.
Palace had not conceded since mid-February and, as Sam Allardyce had admitted in the build-up, the thought of playing catch-up in a duel with the runaway league leaders was the stuff of nightmares.
That recent run of results has at least pepped conviction, and the manner in which they recovered was breathtaking.
Wilfried Zaha, inevitably, sparked their rally in the ninth minute, squeezing space from a dithering Cesar Azpilicueta and Marcos Alonso just outside the home penalty area before fizzing a low shot back across a startled Thibaut Courtois and into the far corner.
Chelsea were still dawdling a little over a minute later when Christian Benteke, a player so shorn of confidence over recent weeks, bustled forward from the halfway line.
David Luiz attempted to stifle his progress only for the ball to deflect to Zaha, sprinting up in support.
The Ivorian's return pass found Benteke alone in front of Courtois, with the striker calmly waiting for his compatriot to go to ground before lifting a delightful finish into the gaping net.
The sense of shock which gripped the majority in the arena was palpable, Palace's support in the Shed end delighting in their firecrackers and smoke bombs while Chelsea players bickered in their inquests.
The visitors heaved to contain them, but it was Wayne Hennessey who effectively kept the hosts at bay. The goalkeeper blocked from Diego Costa with his legs, and tipped Hazard's shot towards the near post.
Chelsea's defeat allowed second-placed Tottenham Hotspur, who beat Burnley 2-0, to move to within seven points of the Blues with nine games remaining.
THE GUARDIAN, REUTERS