Chelsea's title challenge has petered out with a snarl after José Mourinho suffered his first Premier League home defeat over his two spells at the club and made his frustrations clear post-match at the performance of the referee, Mike Dean.
Sunderland inflicted the Portuguese's first league loss at Stamford Bridge in his 78 matches courtesy of a controversial penalty, flagged for by the assistant referee eight minutes from time, with the spot-kick converted by Fabio Borini, a former Chelsea player on loan on Wearside from Liverpool. The Italian's parent club can move five points clear at the top by beating Norwich City on Sunday lunchtime ahead of their meeting with Chelsea at Anfield next Sunday, with the initiative in the title race now very much with those on Merseyside.
That reality left the hosts livid here, with Mourinho and his coaching staff incensed at a number of the officials' decisions and tempers boiling over following Borini's conversion. The assistant manager, Rui Faria, threatened to enter the playing surface to berate the referee and had to be forcibly restrained by three members of the home side's coaching staff and the fourth official, Phil Dowd, with Mourinho tugging back his compatriot by his hair. Faria was eventually ushered down the tunnel having been sent to the stands, with Dean sure to include reference to the incident in his match report to the Football Association.
Whether Mourinho's post-game comments are deemed to have questioned the authority of the Wirral-based referee is open to question. The Chelsea manager, who is still in the process of appealing against the £8,000 fine imposed for misconduct after he was sent to the stands at Villa Park last month, refused to take questions from the floor but, instead, delivered a statement that lasted two minutes 20 seconds. "Just to say I will not wait for your questions," said Mourinho, whose side travel to Madrid on Monday for the first leg of their Champions League semi-final against Atlético. "I'm so sorry about that but, in three or four points, I can say everything I can say, so I won't waste time with the questions you will ask me. We stick with four quick points because I will just say this whatever you asked.
"The first is to congratulate my players. They did everything they could, playing from the first minute to the last seconds, and deserved that. Sometimes we praise the players when we win. I think it's fair to praise my players after the defeat. Secondly, congratulations to Sunderland. It doesn't matter how, why or in which way they won, they won. They won three fantastic points. I think it's also fair to congratulate them.
"Third point, I want to congratulate again Mike Dean. I think his performance was unbelievable and I think when referees have unbelievable performances, I think it's fair that as managers we give them praise. So, fantastic performance. He came here with one objective. To make a fantastic performance. And he did that. And, fourth, congratulations also to Mike Riley, the referees' boss. What they are doing through the whole season is fantastic, especially in the last couple of months, and in teams involved in the title race. Absolutely fantastic. I also congratulate Mr Riley."
Mourinho had cancelled his media conferences before the games against Swansea City and Sunderland partly to avoid commenting on the FA sanction at Villa Park, born of his frustration at Chris Foy's erratic refereeing display, while the appeal process continues. Yet his temper overcame him here, with his response dripping with sarcasm. There had been complaints over a number of decisions – from a foul by Adam Johnson on César Azpilicueta, to a possible penalty against Sebastian Larsson for a push on Ramires – before César Azpilicueta stumbled and was penalised for bringing down the Sunderland substitute, Jozy Altidore, nine minutes from time.
While the full-back's stumble was off-putting, the nature of the contact between the players was not clearcut with Dean taking counsel from his assistant before awarding the penalty. "I saw it on the computer and I understand why they can be talking if it was or not [a penalty]," said the visitors' manager, Gus Poyet. "It's very difficult. I never, ever would expect to get a penalty here. Ever. If it was given against me, I would do the same [as Faria]. Emotion gets the better of you, and that could be the key moment for the title, that one. When it's for you, you feel you can see why he gave it. Especially with the angle the linesman had to see the incident: Azpilicueta going down and then Altidore following. But if it was against me, in a situation like that, I would have been fuming, for sure."
Ramires, too, may face retrospective sanction after appearing to fling an arm back at Larsson towards the end of the first half, with any ban to end his season prematurely. Regardless, Poyet, a former Chelsea player, described his side's first league win since 1 February as "special" and, having come so close to defeating Manchester City at the Etihad stadium last Wednesday, can approach the final four games of the campaign with some relish with his team only three points adrift. "If we don't stay up now it will be a shame, really," he added. "On Wednesday, at 5pm, we were dead and then we got a point against City and should have got three. We got the three here, which offered a great opportunity.
"We kept going, believing, and waiting for our time. We needed to take advantage and we did today. Overall, special. Very special for us … And Fabio? Everyone will be talking about Fabio now because he's a Liverpool player. He'll have a few texts from friends at Liverpool, for sure."