Match ends, Cardiff City 1, Chelsea 2.
Chelsea staged a remarkable late revival to snatch a controversial victory at relegation-threatened Cardiff City and ease the intensifying pressure on boss Maurizio Sarri.
Ponderous and painfully slow, Chelsea controlled possession but did little with it as they were comfortably shackled by a disciplined Cardiff side during a goalless first half.
The hosts took the lead less than a minute into the second period thanks to Victor Camarasa's delicate curling volley, prompting cries of "we want Sarri out" from Chelsea's travelling fans.
With five minutes left, Cesar Azpilicueta nodded in an equaliser from a clearly offside position and then, in added time, substitute Ruben Loftus-Cheek headed the winner to break Cardiff hearts.
- Warnock laments 'worst officials in the world'
- Chelsea boss Sarri 'getting used' to criticism from fans
- Reaction from Cardiff City Stadium
The result is a major blow to Cardiff's bid for Premier League survival, leaving them five points adrift of safety with seven games remaining.
For Chelsea, however, it is a major reprieve for their hopes of securing Champions League football next season, keeping them within a point of Manchester United in fourth place.
And nobody will be feeling more relieved than Sarri after he faced repeated calls to be sacked from the travelling supporters.
Chelsea fans turn on Sarri
The Italian was already under pressure before this match, with a run of four defeats from five away matches and fans growing frustrated with the patient, arguably overly pragmatic style of football known as 'Sarriball'.
They vented their anger on several occasions at Cardiff City Stadium, and justifiably so given their side's largely toothless display.
Sarri had decided to rest two of his most important players, Eden Hazard and N'Golo Kante, who both joined Callum Hudson-Odoi on the bench despite the clamour to hand the 18-year-old winger his first Premier League start following his impressive recent debut for England.
Hazard's creativity and Hudson-Odoi's dynamism would have been useful for Chelsea in a sterile start to the game, as they dominated possession but at a walking pace.
Once again, Gonzalo Higuain cut a forlorn figure up front, dropping deep in search of the ball and often outnumbered by Cardiff's swarming defence.
Added to that, there was no penetration from a midfield three of Mateo Kovacic, Ross Barkley and Jorginho, whose second-half substitution was met with ironic cheers from the travelling supporters.
But it was Sarri for whom they reserved their most stinging vitriol, mocking 'Sarriball' and demanding the Italian's sacking in a string of furious chants.
Chelsea's players pressed forward in search of an equaliser as the second half wore on, but there was little conviction or genuine threat against a Cardiff side who had conceded 57 goals in their previous 30 matches.
That was until the 84th minute when Marcos Alonso flicked on a cross to Azpilicueta, who was a foot offside but allowed to head in from close range, much to the rage of the Cardiff crowd.
A draw would still not have been much use to Chelsea's hopes of a top-four finish, and they got their full reprieve when Willian swung an injury-time cross to the back post, where substitute Loftus-Cheek headed in powerfully to spark celebrations in the away end - and a huge sigh of relief from Sarri.
A cruel blow for Cardiff's survival hopes
While Sarri reflected on his lucky escape, his counterpart Neil Warnock exploded with indignation.
This was a result which could have huge ramifications for Cardiff's bid for Premier League survival, and referee Craig Pawson's controversial late decisions were fuel to the flames of Warnock's fury.
His side were playing catch-up before a ball had been kicked, as Burnley and Southampton's wins on Saturday had left the Bluebirds five points adrift of safety.
But before the late drama here, Cardiff were on the cusp of a fourth win from seven Premier League matches which would have done wonders for their aim of avoiding relegation.
This would have been their most notable scalp of the season and, although it was against a Chelsea side playing well short of their potential, Cardiff deserved credit for the way in which they negated their opponents with a diligent and well-drilled display.
They were content to allow Chelsea the ball for long periods, while carrying a threat on the break with Josh Murphy a livewire on the right wing.
And although Cardiff are not renowned for aesthetically pleasing football, their goal was a thing of beauty, Camarasa barely breaking stride as he swept in a curling volley just inside the Chelsea penalty area.
It was to prove in vain, with Azpilicueta's goal from an offside position incurring the wrath of the home crowd.
The mood darkened further still when Pawson showed Antonio Rudiger a yellow card for bringing down Kenneth Zohore as he bore down on goal, with the home fans believing the offence warranted a sending off.
And then the final blow came in added time as Loftus-Cheek headed in the winner, leaving Cardiff's dumbstruck players and fans wondering how they had been denied a precious victory, and cursing the controversial calls which contributed to the late turnaround.
|Race for the Premier League top four|
|1 April Newcastle (H)|
|3 April Brighton (H)||2 April Wolves (A)||3 April Crystal Palace (H)|
|7 April Everton (A)||8 April West Ham (H)|
|15 April Watford (A)||14 April Liverpool (A)||13 April West Ham (H)||13 April Huddersfield (H)|
|21 April Crystal Palace (H)||22 April Burnley (H)||21 April Everton (A)||20 April Manchester City (A)|
|24 April Wolves (A)||24 April Man City (H)||23 April Brighton (H)|
|29 April Leicester (A)||28 April Man Utd (A)||28 April Chelsea (H)||27 April West Ham (H)|
|4 May Brighton (H)||4 May Watford (H)||4 May Huddersfield (A)||4 May Bournemouth (A)|
|12 May Burnley (A)||12 May Leicester (A)||12 May Cardiff (H)||12 May Everton (H)|
Man of the match - Aron Gunnarsson (Cardiff)
The late, late show - the stats
- Chelsea have now scored 18 goals in the final 15 minutes of Premier League matches this season, no club in the competition has managed more.
- Cardiff City are only the third team in Premier League history to lose four consecutive matches against a particular opponent despite opening the scoring each time.
- Six of the eight Premier League points Chelsea have won from losing positions this season have come home and away versus Cardiff.
- Ruben Loftus-Cheek's winner for Chelsea was his fourth Premier League goal of the season on his 17th appearance - one more than he managed in his previous 46 matches in the competition.
- Loftus-Cheek's goal was Chelsea's first 90th-minute winner in the Premier League since Frank Lampard scored against Everton in February 2014.
- Cesar Azpilicueta is the 14th different player to score for Chelsea in the Premier League this season - only Manchester United have had more different scorers in 2018-19.
Both teams are back in action on Wednesday. While Cardiff are at title-chasing Manchester City (19:45 BST), Chelsea host Brighton at the same time.
- 5Ecuele Manga
- 17GunnarssonBooked at 86mins
- 7ArterBooked at 54minsSubstituted forRallsat 80'minutes
- 11MurphySubstituted forMendez-Laingat 90'minutes
- 29NiasseSubstituted forZohoreat 85'minutes
- 14De Cordova-Reid
- 23K Harris
- 28AzpilicuetaBooked at 61mins
- 2RüdigerBooked at 87mins
- 30David Luiz
- 5JorginhoBooked at 26minsSubstituted forLoftus-Cheekat 64'minutes
- 11PedroSubstituted forE Hazardat 53'minutes
- 9HiguaínSubstituted forGiroudat 77'minutes
- 10E Hazard
- Craig Pawson
- Shots on Target
Second Half ends, Cardiff City 1, Chelsea 2.
Attempt saved. Joe Bennett (Cardiff City) left footed shot from outside the box is saved in the top right corner.
Foul by Ross Barkley (Chelsea).
Bruno Ecuele Manga (Cardiff City) wins a free kick in the attacking half.
Foul by Ruben Loftus-Cheek (Chelsea).
Aron Gunnarsson (Cardiff City) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Attempt missed. Ross Barkley (Chelsea) left footed shot from the left side of the box is too high. Assisted by Eden Hazard following a fast break.
Foul by David Luiz (Chelsea).
Víctor Camarasa (Cardiff City) wins a free kick in the attacking half.
Goal! Cardiff City 1, Chelsea 2. Ruben Loftus-Cheek (Chelsea) header from the centre of the box to the bottom right corner. Assisted by Willian with a cross.
Olivier Giroud (Chelsea) wins a free kick on the right wing.
Foul by Joe Bennett (Cardiff City).
Substitution, Cardiff City. Nathaniel Mendez-Laing replaces Josh Murphy.
Attempt blocked. Víctor Camarasa (Cardiff City) right footed shot from outside the box is blocked.
Antonio Rüdiger (Chelsea) is shown the yellow card for a bad foul.
Foul by Antonio Rüdiger (Chelsea).
Kenneth Zohore (Cardiff City) wins a free kick in the attacking half.
Aron Gunnarsson (Cardiff City) is shown the yellow card for a bad foul.
Ruben Loftus-Cheek (Chelsea) wins a free kick in the defensive half.