Stoke 1 Chelsea 0
In the darkest moments for Chelsea yesterday it was possible to imagine Jose Mourinho pacing the nearby hotel room from which he watched this game, cursing his misfortune and -nursing a three-star Alan Partridge-style anguish at his utter helplessness at the current state of his career.
Exiled from the dugout on a Football Association ban, his team that could scarcely win a game with him on the touchline cannot win without him -either. This was Chelsea's seventh league defeat of an extraordinary -season that has seen them drop to 16th in the table behind Norwich City and a mere two places above the relegation zone. Someone had better check that Mourinho's hotel-room trouser press is still intact.
Their defeat was inflicted by a Marko Arnautovic goal in the early stages of the second half with Chelsea having had by far the better chances before the break but failing to take them. It means their manager goes into the -international break with even more uncertainty over his future. Roman Abramovich has sacked managers for much less severe slumps in form than this and Mourinho's future has to be under consideration.
The statement released by the club offering Mourinho their "full support" in October after the defeat by Southampton still stands but the stipulation that results improve has simply not been met. The support for Mourinho among the match-going fans has been emphatic: they sang his name over and over again here but the Chelsea fans have not always got what they want from their club's Russian owner.
It was not a disastrous performance from Chelsea, who are in great need of an attacking threat with Diego Costa's form so poor. Yet that has been the case for some time now and they are still -losing games.
Bereft of their leader, the Chelsea staff had the hangdog aura of a cub scout troupe who had lost their Akela, although it meant that at least the fourth official could relax a bit. There was no one to leap out of his seat when Glenn Whelan chopped down Eden Hazard late in the first half, no one other than Faria. Mourinho has struggled of late to get his team to gather the momentum to win games and in the first half they were on top but did not take their chances.
There were plenty of those, the best of which was a backheel from Pedro Rodriguez, back in the side for the first time since the win over Aston Villa, into the path of Diego Costa, whose shot was well-saved by Jack Butland. Butland also tipped over a dipping half-volley from Ramires.
Costa struggled at times during the first half, especially when he tried to body charge Ryan Shawcross, bounced off the Stoke captain and had to nurse a painful blow to his side.
Hazard and Willian had exchanged passes on 14 minutes and opened another chance for Willian. The quality in Chelsea's team, even against a Stoke side including Xherdan Shaqiri and Bojan Krkic, was starting to tell and yet they could not break their opponents down.
The only first-half chance for Stoke fell to right-back Glen Johnson who collected Bojan's ball into the area, turned and forced a good save from Asmir Begovic. Otherwise it was a struggle for Mark Hughes's team to create anything, with Willian orchestrating the Chelsea midfield and a solid base behind him of Nemanja Matic and Ramires.
It is the way things have been at Chelsea at times in recent weeks that periods of dominance in games have passed without goals, and the few chances that have gone the way of their opposition have been taken ruthlessly. So it proved again at Stoke when, with seven minutes of the second half gone, the home side finally opened Chelsea up.
A fine ball from Shaqiri allowed Johnson a run down the right wing and he placed a good cross into the area. Jonathan Walters challenged for the ball but it bounced free to Arnautovic, who improvised brilliantly to get airborne and strike a volley past Begovic from close range. There had been no more than two previous clear sights of the Chelsea goal but Stoke had taken their chance.
In the moments leading to the goal the first signs of bad temper had crept into the match. Costa had gone down when Shawcross put a boot in front of him on 52 minutes and, while there was a certain drama about the fall of the Chelsea striker, replays showed there was probably contact, foot to foot.
Costa's methods of aggression, of picking his moments to leave a boot in or whispering to an opponent in the aftermath of a passage of play do not work with Stoke's defence and in particular Shawcross. If anything it plays into their hands and they were a lot more certain handling Costa than they were dealing with the darting feet of Willian and Hazard.
In terms of goal threat, Costa was offering Chelsea very little but they had no option other than to persist with him. On the bench, Faria and Holland had used all their substitutes by the 75th minute, switching to a back three and front-loading the team with Cesc Fabregas, Oscar and Loic Remy.
Remy had the best chance, played in by Costa, beating Butland and jumping over the goalkeeper when he could have gone down. But he failed to double back for the shot and another game slipped away from Mourinho and his battered side.