Nicolas Jackson scored a hat-trick as Chelsea recorded our biggest league victory at Tottenham since the legendary 6-1 in 1997, but that fact barely scratches the surface of a remarkable game of football.
Where to start! Dejan Kulusevski put Spurs in front early on but by half-time we were level and holding a man advantage. Destiny Udogie and Cristian Romero had already been fortunate to escape straight red cards for challenges on Raheem Sterling and Levi Colwill when VAR recommended Romero be shown his marching orders for a horror tackle inside the box. Cole Palmer scored the penalty.
Sterling (handball), Moises Caicedo and Jackson (both offside) all had goals disallowed during a barely comprehensible opening 45 – well, 57 – minutes, in which it felt like a key decision was being made every 30 seconds.
Spurs lost two players to injury in first-half added time and another to a red card early in the second period, Udogie shown a second yellow. We had to be patient before breaking down the nine-man dam, Jackson netting from close range with 75 minutes on the clock.
The drama wasn’t done as Spurs had a goal of their own disallowed for offside and then nearly equalised on two further occasions. But Jackson made sure he had the final word, scoring two more goals in stoppage time as we made the most of the hosts’ high line. It was a suitably eventful ending to a wild London derby.
The pre-match talk had centred on Mauricio Pochettino’s return to his former home, but that was forgotten as soon as the drama began. His teamsheet included the return of Thiago Silva and Levi Colwill in defence – Benoit Badiashile and Marc Cucurella making way – with Caicedo replacing Lesley Ugochukwu ahead of them.
Spurs struck first as fortune favoured the home side on six minutes. The ball was worked wide to Kulusevski, who cut in off the right flank and went for goal. The ball took a hefty deflection off Colwill to wrongfoot Robert Sanchez and end up in the net.
We were under the cosh. Pedro Porro had a shot well held by Sanchez, and a further scare followed on the quarter-hour, right after Nicolas Jackson had been impressively denied by Guglielmo Vicario with our first effort of note.
VAR takes centre stage…
Son Heung-Min had the ball in the net from Brennan Johnson’s centre, but the offside flag was raised with VAR ratifying the decision after a lengthy check. Little did we know that was just the beginning of surely one of the busiest halves the video assistant referees have ever had to deal with…
Next up was a check for an aerial two-footed challenge by Udogie that Raheem Sterling was lucky to avoid the brunt of. VAR did not recommend Michael Oliver check the screen to upgrade his initial yellow card.
Midway through the half, Sterling sprinted into the Tottenham box. Porro blocked his first shot back onto Sterling’s arm and into our no.7’s path. The force of the second strike beat Vicario, but handball was VAR’s decision.
In the build-up to that disallowed goal, Cristian Romero had kicked Levi Colwill off the ball in frustration. His reprieve from those in Stockley Park did not last long.
Goal, offside, red card, penalty, goal…
It was another remarkable passage of play. The ball bounced around the edge of the box before falling to Caicedo, who arrowed a fine left-footed strike into the bottom corner from 20 yards out.
The assistant’s flag was up, however, with Jackson, an inch ahead of the last defender, deemed to be interfering with play as the ball whistled through his legs.
However, replays also showed Romero had horribly fouled his compatriot Enzo inside the box just before the ball fell to Caicedo. Two-footed, high and overly forceful, he had to walk this time. And it meant a Chelsea penalty!
Palmer stepped up and whipped his effort off the inside of the post, despite Vicario getting fingertips to it. 1-1!
The Blues dominated possession for the remainder of the half, which spanned 57 minutes in total and a remarkable 35 VAR checks, but the most notable incidents concerned two more Spurs players exiting the fray, James Maddison and Micky van de Ven both withdrawn due to injury.
Down to nine
Tottenham retained their high line when play restarted, affording us plenty of space in behind to try and exploit. From one such break, Sterling couldn’t find Palmer but he did collect the loose ball a second before Udogie, who scythed him down. Second yellow, and Spurs reduced to nine men.
Immediately, Jackson had a header kneed off the line from underneath the crossbar by sub Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg. James then chested authoritatively and fired a whisker wide.
The nearlys and what ifs continued as balls over the top were underhit, or overhit. Marc Cucurella, on at the break for Colwill, did time his run perfectly but was thwarted by the sprawling Vicario.
Jackson helps himself
Finally, with 15 minutes left, we got one right! James slipped in Sterling down the right and his square pass was swept into the net by Jackson, who celebrated in front of the delirious travelling support. It was tight, but the lines showed Sterling was onside and the goal stood.
Despite our numerical advantage we survived some late scares before Jackson made the game safe. Eric Dier had the ball in the net but from an offside position; another sub, Rodrigo Bentancur, mistimed his header from a dangerous free-kick; and then in stoppage time Sanchez got down low to deny Son.
We broke from that save and made the game, and the points, safe. This time Gallagher was the man bursting into yards of empty space, squaring to Jackson to comfortably convert again.
That was in the fourth minute of added time; in the seventh, he completed his hat-trick! Palmer pierced the weary backline and Jackson stood Vicario down before rolling the ball into the net. He even had a chance for a fourth with the final kick following a clever cutback from Mykhailo Mudryk, but shot over.
It mattered not! The Blues were handsome winners on enemy territory, and deservedly so. Our long wait for a win over a fellow big six club, stretching back to January 2022, is over. And in some style!
What it means
The Blues have now won three away games on the spin and move to 10th in the table having inflicted a first defeat on Tottenham this season.
Time for a breather! And then it’s another huge game that awaits before the international break as top-of-the-table Man City visit Stamford Bridge on Sunday.
Chelsea (4-2-3-1): Sanchez; James (c) (Gusto 77), Disasi, Thiago Silva, Colwill (Cucurella h/t); Caicedo, Enzo (Mudryk 58); Palmer, Gallagher, Sterling (Ugochukwu 90); Jackson.
Unused subs Petrovic, Maatsen, Badiashile, Madueke, Mudryk
Scorers Palmer 35, Jackson 75, 90+4, 90+7
Booked Jackson 45+10, Colwill 45+10, Gusto 86, Mudryk 89
Tottenham (4-2-3-1): Vicario; Porro, Romero, van de Ven (Emerson Royal 45), Udogie; Bissouma, Sarr (Bentancur 61); Kulusevski (Skipp 61), Maddison (Hojbjerg 45+1), Johnson (Dier 34); Son
Unused subs Forster, Gil, Emerson, Lo Celso, Richarlison
Scorer Kulusevski 6
Sent off Romero 33, Udogie (second yellow) 55
Booked Udogie 18, Sarr 45+10
Referee Michael Oliver