Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho insisted his side were still the team to beat despite the Premier League leaders seeing their unbeaten start to the season ended by Newcastle United.
Saturday’s dramatic 2-1 setback against 10-man Newcastle, their first loss since April, saw Chelsea fall one game short of setting a club-record mark of 24 matches without defeat.
More damagingly, it allowed defending champions Manchester City to close to within three points of Mourinho’s side by winning 1-0 at home to Everton.
But the Chelsea manager said he was relaxed after Papiss Cisse’s brace condemned his team to a third consecutive defeat on Tyneside.
“We were unlucky and Newcastle had the luck, but I have no complaints towards my players and how they went about the game,” said Mourinho, whose side hit back through Didier Drogba.
“It’s one defeat, but it’s the kind of defeat which I can accept a little more, because I have no problem with the way my players played.
“It would have been so very difficult to go through the season unbeaten as so many people had suggested. But even after this defeat, we have to ask the other 19 teams in the Premier League if they’d like to be in our position? I think they would.
“We were unlucky, that’s all. The best team lost. The team that tried to win lost. That’s football. It’s a lucky day for them, and an unlucky one for us, but that’s how it goes sometimes.
“We conceded goals the only time they crossed the halfway line. I don’t criticise their approach. You need luck to play that way and win, but they had and I have no problems with that.”
– ‘North-east hero’ –
Mourinho was unhappy with what he saw as Newcastle’s time-wasting tactics, even accusing their ball boys of being part of a strategy to run down the clock during the six minutes of added time.
“We wanted to play more football, but it wasn’t possible due to a few things happening that I thought didn’t belong to top-level football now,” he said.
“The ball comes, then the ball goes and the ball boys run away. The ball disappears, then when the replacement ball comes, the first one comes back as well.
“There should have been more stoppage time, but it’s hard for the referee to keep track of.”
Victory for Newcastle, who were reduced to 10 men late on after a second yellow card for defender Steven Taylor, was the perfect way for manager Alan Pardew to celebrate his impending fourth anniversary at the club.
“I can’t praise my players enough,” he said. “We’ve done the rest of the Premier League a favour by beating Chelsea. We’ve given everyone a gee-up and made it more interesting.
“It’s a two-horse race between Chelsea and Manchester City, but this has made it more interesting.”
Rookie goalkeeper Jak Alnwick, 21, came off the bench at half-time for the injured Rob Elliot and played a pivotal role in the win on his senior debut.
“Robbie had been struggling and he hasn’t really trained, so Jak was half-prepared to come on,” Pardew said.
“He showed nerves of steel and gave me so much confidence watching from the sidelines. He’ll definitely win our cool dude award at the Christmas party. He’s a north-east hero tonight.”