Tottenham Hotspur’s hopes of returning to the top of the Premier League were dashed in extraordinary fashion as they lost 4-1 at home to Chelsea after a Nicolas Jackson hat-trick in a chaotic London derby that they finished with nine men on Monday.
It was a triumphant return to Spurs for Mauricio Pochettino who got the biggest win of his short Chelsea tenure, though few could have imagined how it would be achieved on a mind-boggling night of VAR decisions, fraying tempers and disallowed goals.
Previously unbeaten Tottenham went ahead after six minutes thanks to Dejan Kulusevski’s deflected shot and minutes later had a second scored by Son Heung-min ruled out for offside.
But in scenes reminiscent of the infamous Battle of the Bridge in 2016 when Chelsea scuppered the title hopes of Pochettino’s Tottenham side, the hosts’ night unravelled in a way that could have a serious impact on their season.
Centre back Cristian Romero was sent off after a VAR check for a dangerous tackle that resulted in a penalty scored by Cole Palmer and Spurs then lost his defensive partner Micky van de Ven and playmaker James Maddison to injury before halftime.
Destiny Udogie was shown a second yellow card 10 minutes after the break leaving the hosts hanging on grimly for a point.
Chelsea eventually made their numerical advantage count as Jackson put them ahead from close range in the 75th minute – the goal standing after yet another VAR check for offside.
Tottenham had an equaliser by substitute Eric Dier ruled out for offside and Son saw an effort saved in stoppage time by Robert Sanchez before Jackson wrapped it up with two added time efforts in front of the joyful Chelsea fans.
A first league defeat for Australian Ange Postecoglou leaves his Spurs team in second place with 26 points from 11 games, one behind champions Manchester City. Chelsea’s fourth win of the season moved them up to 10th with 15 points.
Tottenham have enjoyed their best start to a top-flight season since 1960 with Postecoglou the first manager to go unbeaten in his first 10 Premier League games.
And when Pape Matar Sarr fed Kulusevski and the Swede’s shot deflected off Levi Colwill to wrongfoot Sanchez and roll into the net the stadium was rocking.
Chelsea were chasing shadows initially and breathed a sigh of relief when Son’s effort was ruled out for offside.
But then Tottenham’s world began to collapse around them.
The spark was a petulant kick by Romero on Colwill that went unpunished in the lead-up to a Raheem Sterling goal that was disallowed for handball after another VAR check.
Minutes later Chelsea had the ball in the net again as Moises Caicedo drilled a low shot inside the post after a frenetic scramble although again it was ruled out for offside.
However, the VAR check ended with referee Michael Oliver viewing a pitch-side monitor and awarding a penalty before showing a red card to Romero for a wild tackle on his Argentina team mate Enzo Fernandez in the build-up.
After seven minutes of baffling confusion, Cole Palmer stepped up to squeeze his penalty in off the post despite the best efforts of Spurs’ outstanding keeper Guglielmo Vicario.
It got worse for Tottenham as Maddison rolled his ankle and was unable to continue before Van de Ven’s hamstring gave out.
With four of their starting lineup no longer on the pitch. Spurs survived 12 minutes of first-half stoppage time but the wind had been taken fully out of their sails.
The second half was only 10 minutes old when Udogie was sent off for a poorly-timed tackle on Sterling.
Chelsea peppered Tottenham’s goal but the home fans cranked up the volume, roaring every tackle and clearance.
Spurs made two more substitutions on the hour mark with Sarr and Kulusevski replaced by Rodrigo Bentancur and Oliver Skipp — meaning the hosts were now missing seven of the players that started the incident-packed derby.
Jackson eventually broke Tottenham’s resistance with a tap-in from Sterling’s pass and the Senegal striker rubbed salt in the home side’s wounds with two more goals at the death.