Frank Lampard broke Chelsea’s all-time scoring record with two goals as the European champions all but secured a top-four finish in the English Premier League with a 2-1 win in an incident-packed game at Aston Villa yesterday.
Christian Benteke put Villa in front in the first half with his 19th league goal of the season and Chelsea looked in real trouble when midfielder Ramires was sent off for a second caution just before halftime.
The Londoners looked flat and lethargic, but the turning-point came in the 58th minute when Benteke was dismissed for a second booking.
Lampard equalized with a crisp left-foot shot two minutes later and the England midfielder went past Bobby Tambling’s record of 202 Chelsea goals when he slid in for the winner in the 88th minute.
“People have been talking about the record a lot and it’s great to get it finally, especially in an important game,” an emotional Lampard told Sky Sports TV. “But I didn’t want to celebrate too much because Bobby has been ill lately and I wanted to be respectful to a great man.”
Visiting captain John Terry was carried off on a stretcher in the 72nd minute with his left leg in a brace after being hurt in a collision in Villa’s penalty area.
Interim manager Rafael Benitez said Terry had twisted his ankle and the defender would need a scan to determine the full extent of the injury.
Chelsea occupy third position with 72 points and one game to go, five points ahead of Arsenal and six clear of Tottenham Hotspur, who both have two matches left.
Villa’s defeat meant they are still not certain of avoiding relegation.
Paul Lambert’s team are 13th in the table on 40 points, five ahead of Wigan Athletic, who are in the third and final relegation place with two matches remaining.
Villa’s young side, hammered 8-0 by Chelsea at Stamford Bridge in December, seemed hell-bent on avenging that defeat early on and it came as no surprise when Benteke ran beyond Gary Cahill before calmly beating keeper Petr Cech in the 14th minute.
Benteke celebrated by lifting his shirt and revealing a T-shirt emblazoned with “Petrov 19,” saluting former Villa captain Stiliyan Petrov, who announced his retirement in the week after being diagnosed with leukemia last year.
Petrov, 33, whose illness is in remission, was given a standing ovation when he and his family went on a lap of honor at the end of the game.
The day belonged to Lampard, who equalized Benteke’s first-half strike by burying a left-foot shot in the corner of the net on the hour.
The 34-year-old Chelsea vice-captain headed over when well placed in the 77th minute, but he made no mistake from close range 11 minutes later.
A smiling Lampard was engulfed by his teammates at the final whistle before he climbed on the shoulders of Cech to applaud a raucous group of Chelsea supporters.
The victory will put the Londoners in great heart ahead of Wednesday’s Europa League final against Benfica in Amsterdam, the 68th fixture of a grueling season for Benitez’s team.