LONDON // For all the talk of the meeting between Wayne Bridge and John Terry, there was ultimately more at stake yesterday for the two teams than two men. And it was Bridge and Manchester City who gained the upper hand with a victory that Roberto Mancini said could be their "most important" of the season. "I don't know if it's the best result, but it's important. This game can change our season," said the City manager.
The pre-match handshake flashed by in an instant. Bridge did not accept Terry's hand, but gave a glare to show his stance on the alleged affair between Terry and Vanessa Perroncel, the mother of Bridge's son. Bridge was taken off in the 78th minute with his side 3-1 up. He had made his point on both counts. Mancini said: "Wayne has been playing well and this team has a fantastic spirit and for this reason we won this game. We were motivated because we wanted to win this game. It's important he played very well, but it's important that we speak about football now."
The victory ended Chelsea's run of 37 home games without defeat and Carlo Ancelotti, their coach, admitted it was "not a good day for us". But he dismissed the suggestion the Bridge-Terry showdown had affected his league leaders. "I don't think Manchester City were distracted and we were not," he said. "We lost our balance and Manchester City played a fantastic counter-attack. The only good thing is that we still have one point more than Manchester United."
Bridge played his part in City's success in defence and attack. Chelsea were leading 1-0 through Frank Lampard's drive when Bridge's long clearance in first-half injury-time was headed backwards by Mikel John Obi into the path of Carlos Tevez. A wonderful first touch took him past Terry and, despite the attempts of Ricardo Carvalho and Terry, he twisted and turned and got a shot at goal. It was weak, but dribbled past the unconvincing Hilario for City's first goal at Stamford Bridge in eight attempts to give City the encouragement and belief they needed. Three second-half goals followed to give them their first league double over Chelsea since 1957.
Craig Bellamy finished off a forceful run with a fine finish from an acute angle before Tevez coolly slotted home a penalty for his 21st goal of the season when Juliano Belletti barged into the back of Gareth Barry. The Brazilian saw red for the professional foul and so too did Michael Ballack after a late lunge on Tevez earned him a second yellow card. Chelsea, whose nine men gained a late consolation through Lampard's penalty, were undone by City's swift counter-attacks. The fourth goal highlighted this as Tevez released Shaun Wright-Phillips, who unselfishly crossed for Bellamy to claim his second.
"Football is strange," added Mancini. "We played Stoke a few days ago in the FA Cup, dominated and lost the game. I don't know how to explain it." Tevez was the key. He only got back on Friday after going home to Argentina following complications with the birth of his daughter. City missed him and Mancini joked: "I think we will send him to Argentina for two weeks and then bring him back the day before. Carlos was fantastic. I was pleased for Craig Bellamy too. If he stays in good condition, with him and Carlos, I think we have a good chance to finish in the top four."
Bellamy said: "I know what JT is like and nothing surprises me about it, so I'm not going to comment on that. I think everybody in football knows what the guy is like, but that's off the field. On it he's an outstanding player. It's always going to be difficult when you play him and his team. This was a big, big result for us." email@example.com