Brighton & Hove Albion ruined Chelsea boss Frank Lampard’s return to Stamford Bridge with a 2-1 comeback win on Saturday as substitutes Danny Welbeck and Julio Enciso condemned the Blues to a third defeat in three games under their interim coach.
Lampard, who rested several first-choice starters before Tuesday’s Champions League quarter-final second leg against Real Madrid, at least saw the Blues score the first goal of his second spell in charge when Conor Gallagher’s deflected shot beat Robert Sanchez in the Brighton goal in the 13th minute.
But the visitors, under coach Roberto De Zerbi, were the better side for long spells, forcing Chelsea goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga into fine saves and hitting the bar before they drew level when Welbeck squeezed between two defenders to head in off the post in the 42nd minute, shortly after coming on.
The Seagulls got the second goal that they deserved when Paraguayan Enciso scored with an unstoppable shot from 25 yards in the 69th minute, bolstering Brighton’s hopes of European football for the first time in their history next season.
“It’s important we try to pick up as many points as we can,” Welbeck told the BBC. “With the confidence in the team we know we can go anywhere and cause problems.”
Brighton hammered Chelsea 4-1 in October, a result which set in train a slump in form for the London side that led to the dismissal this month of Graham Potter as coach, six months after the Blues had poached him — and four other backroom staff — from the south-coast side to replace Thomas Tuchel.
Brighton’s fans revelled in the contrasting fortunes of the two clubs, greeting Chelsea’s expensively assembled players with chants of “What a waste of money” before kick-off as Chelsea’s American co-owner Todd Boehly looked on from the stands.
The result left Brighton seventh in the Premier League, five points ahead of Liverpool. They are also in the FA Cup semi-finals, facing Manchester United next weekend.
Chelsea remain marooned in 11th position with their only hope of any silverware this season dependent on their ability to turn around a 2-0 deficit against reigning European champions Real Madrid at home on Tuesday.
Saturday’s defeat followed a 1-0 loss away to Wolverhampton Wanderers in Lampard’s first game back as caretaker coach last weekend and the unsuccessful visit to the Spanish capital in midweek.
“I’m disappointed on every level,” Chelsea’s all-time top goal-scorer told the BBC. “The better team won. They could have won by more. They played like a team.”