LONDON • While John Terry's red card marked an embarrassing end to an awkward return to the first team, the Chelsea captain's troubled afternoon also served to highlight how crucial the defenders whom Antonio Conte rested on Sunday will be to the London football club's chances of silverware this season.
A shaky and jittery display on his first appearance in two months culminated in Terry diving in to haul down Lee Angol after the Peterborough striker clipped the ball past him.
Referee Kevin Friend decided that Terry was the last man and dismissed him for denying a clear scoring opportunity.
The 36-year-old produced a wry smile and shook the hand of Conte as he walked off with 23 minutes left.
The home side's 3-0 lead in the FA Cup third-round tie was soon reduced and, while they went on to win 4-1, Terry is unlikely to have the last laugh, with his hopes of being handed a new playing contract, when his deal expires this summer, fast reducing.
As, it would appear, are his chances of playing more games with a ban to follow, as Chelsea recalled Nathan Ake, who has impressed on loan at Bournemouth, before the game.
Terry's exit was brought about by the excellent Chris Forrester, who slipped a through-ball for Angol to scamper on to and forced the former England captain into a late and clumsy tackle.
Branislav Ivanovic ran across to give the impression that he was a covering defender, but seemed to fool only his manager.
Terry will be banned from the Premier League match away to Leicester on Saturday, when normal service will be resumed in the back line, unless Conte is successful with his planned appeal.
"It wasn't right, this decision from the referee," the Italian said. "He didn't take the opponent and Ivanovic was behind. The red card is not good. You have to respect the decision, but in this case maybe we will do an appeal."
It is hard to see Terry starting in a league game that will matter when he was shown up by Peterborough's strikers. He was uncharacteristically outmuscled for possession by Angol and Tom Nichols and rescued by Gary Cahill in the opening stages.
Chelsea will, though, continue to call on Terry's experience off the pitch. "He's showing me great commitment when I ask him to play, when he doesn't play, because he's helping me in the changing room," Conte said. "He's showing me to be a good player, but above all a good man.
"Now it's important to continue in this way, because we have to play the second half of the season. It's important to make this decision (about his contract) together."
Ake can play at centre or left-back and, on this evidence, would be more likely than Terry or Ivanovic to fill in for injury.
"He's showing he's ready to stay in a squad of Chelsea," Conte said. "He gives me options. It's important to see during a training session if he can play as a wing-back."
Terry and Ivanovic, four years younger, showed their age and were not the only players to be continually unnerved by Peterborough's high pressing and swift attacking.
The good news was that centre- back Kurt Zouma emerged unscathed from the first game back after suffering a cruciate knee ligament injury against Manchester United nearly a year ago.
Chelsea were good going forward and worthy of scoring more than twice either side of the break.
Conte's side were leading through goals from Pedro Rodriguez, Michy Batshuayi and Willian before Terry's dismissal.
Tom Nichols replied for third-tier Peterborough, but Pedro wrapped up the win with his second goal.
"For 15 minutes, we were very good," Grant McCann, the visiting manager, said. "We had a couple of good chances. They were clinical, we were not but we did not disgrace ourselves. We thought that we may as well come and give it a go."
THE TIMES, LONDON, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE