The smell was of burning rubber. Whether this emanated from the tyres of Antony Taylor's getaway car - revving like a lunatic infront of the City superstore - or the pile of used Goodyear Ultra Grips being prepared to put on his tribute bonfire further up the concourse was unclear.
A four point lead had been gained by the visitors, but it had been a match that could quite easily have delivered City their first home league win in four attempts.
After three slovenly 1-1 draws with Southampton, Everton, where the Dutchman Stekelenburg had the game of his life and a Middlesbrough side, which had spent the first 65 minutes shuffling about infront of their own penalty box, City had now more or less gifted a serious title rival three points. It came in a small sequinned box with sky blue ribbons on it. Inside - you imagined - Antonio Conte and his willing young men might find the rest of Nicolas Otamendi's brain, a sprig of heather and Gael Clichy's allegorical novel "How To Pass To The Moon".
Chelsea, lest anybody be fooled, are a tenacious and well drilled unit under Antonio Conte. Their midfield terriers are excellent and in Victor Moses, they had an outstanding, if slightly surprising, man of the match. The winger played studiously as a full back and was the Johnny on the spot time after time to block, clear or nullify a variety of potent City threats.
|Clichy contemplates the moon.|
Those threats had come streaming down the flanks, where Jesus Navas linked well early on with Kevin de Bruyne, speed of foot and lightness of touch taking them away from flashing legs. On the opposite flank, once Leroy Sane had cleared his brain of surprise to be playing, he too cast aside his jittery start, opening his thighs and showing his class, as David Coleman might once upon a time have said.
Oddly, it was De Bruyne's profligacy and selfishness - charcteristics not usually attributed to the Belgian - that would turn the game rapidly and completely in Chelsea's favour in the opening scenes of the second half.
With "Anthony Taylor of Altrincham" showing up strongly in the first half for the visitors, City may well have felt slightly hard done by. Certainly the wall of opprobrium shifting gaily down the stands towards the hapless man in black might have confirmed for him that he was having a particularly short-sighted day. If refereeing is about flow and control, vision and understanding, Taylor was revealing a blind river vole's grip on such skills out on the park.
David Luiz's obvious body charge on Sergio Aguero might have gained a free kick on another day and possibly a red card from another official, but here it merited only a shrug and a look of oranges, lemons and plums from the official. When Aleksander Kolarov attempted something similar on Eden Hazard later on, he was shown an immediate and friskily demonstrated yellow card. Nicolas Otamendi, starting authoritatively, but soon to descend the rungs to danger level defending, also received a yellow from the suddenly fussy official for a perfectly clean tackle in the first half.
"Just about deserve the lead at half time, but Anthony Taylor is a constant threat for them" - Ric Turner on Twitter
For a moment Taylor stood over him in savage triumph, not the tiniest pang of doubt pulling at his taught features. He was at once master of ceremonies and harbinger of good news. The messenger with the bald head. You felt, even if you sloshed a pail of freezing water in his face, he wouldn't wake from his exultant reveries.
Despite this, City were making decent inroads and as the half finished, finally got some reward, as Navas's dangerous centre looped in off the unfortunate Gary Cahill. Marcus Alonso, so long so strong on the left flank for Chelsea, had stood off Navas just enough to allow a cross to make it into the box.
The match swung on two elements at the of the second half, one unusual, the other painfully familiar: First De Bruyne was central in spurning two gilt-edged chances. With Sane driving forward through the middle, he set the Belgian free and advanced into the box for the simple cut back which would have been side-footed home. Instead De Bruyne shot inside Courtois' near post and his countryman saved.
|Here he comes, airborne and taught.|
Instead, a useful onslaught exploded into bits.
Within seconds, Otamendi had been royally dealt with by Diego Costa and Chelsea were level. One on one, Costa dealt with his defender like a fat child unwrapping a KitKat after a difficult hour without snacks. A second aberration for the Argentine came straight after, as the same player turned him like an ageing tango partner and set up Willian for the second. Otamendi displays simple principles of dive and thud, frequently containing therein his own doom, written in stark capital letters. Here they were again, this time in neon for effect.
Nothing was going right. Red cards followed as City's patience finally frayed.
A match that was in the palm of their hands now rested in Chelsea's back pocket.