In many ways, the fireworks ahead of Chelsea’s 4th round League Cup clash with Manchester United were the most spectacular thing in the first half.
The Blues went on to lose to the Reds 2-1 thanks to a Marcus Rashford penalty and then a stunning 35-yard free kick, with only Michy Batshuayi’s leveller just after an hour giving Chelsea anything to really crow about.
So the Blues tumble out of the Carabao Cup, sparing Frank Lampard’s side an extra three matches between now and Christmas.
But despite that, it still stings.
With both sides making extensive changes, while keeping faith with most of the players given their chance in the previous round, this felt like a match Chelsea could win.
Revenge for that perplexing 4-0 league scoreline at Old Trafford would have been sweet… but it was simply not meant to be.
A flurry of late subs, including the introduction of Mason Mount, added some urgency, but United controlled, delayed and managed the dying minutes effectively.
For some reason – and it sometimes just happens – Chelsea looked all out of sorts, and on the back foot, from kick-off.
Although they had spells of possession, they never really troubled United keeper Sergio Romero.
When, in the 24th minute, Marcos Alonso clattered the seemingly fragile Daniel James in the area, and ref Paul Tierney pointed to the spot, no one made much of a fuss. Rashford sent Willy Caballero the wrong way, and it was 1-0 at half-time.
In a raucous, boisterous and shouty Stamford Bridge, Chelsea levelled when Batshuayi was released by a long upfield punt by Caballero. The nimble striker headed, chased, kept United captain Harry Maguire at bay, then fired home with a superb hit.
But 12 minutes later, after United had won a free kick more than 35 yards out, Rashford’s dipping strike was the most impressive moment of the night, and 1-2 it stayed until the final whistle.
“In the second half we showed the energy I wanted,” said Frank Lampard, who now turns his attention to defeating Watford at the weekend. “We created chances and dominated the game. They got a bolt out of the blue to win the game. It’s an amazing goal, you can’t do anything about that. We felt like we were going on to win the game at that stage.”
Speaking about the end of Chelsea’s recent winning streak, he was realistic. “You can’t go on forever; even Man City and Liverpool lose at some point! We changed the team a lot today, made a lot of changes. I thought we were the better team in general play.”
His task is now to pick the team up before Saturday’s early evening clash with the Hornets, and although the likes of Billy Gilmour, Marc Guehi and Reece James did OK against United, it’s likely to be a stronger line-up at Vicarage Road.