London: Stiliyan Petrov and Darren Bent struck the late goals that secured a 3-1 victory for Aston Villa at Stamford Bridge and ensured Chelsea were unable to force their way back into the title race on Saturday.
Manchester United's home defeat to Blackburn Rovers immediately before kick-off meant Andre Villas-Boas' side had the chance to move within eight points of the top of the table.
But they were unable to make the most of the opportunity despite Didier Drogba putting the home side ahead with a first half penalty, his 150th goal for the club.
Stephen Ireland, criticised midweek after a photograph appeared on Twitter of him apparently smoking a shisha pipe and drinking a glass of wine, equalised in the 27th minute.
And Alex McLeish's side then wrapped up the win with two goals in the final seven minutes to make it four games without a win for Chelsea and confirm the rebuilding task that lies ahead for Villas-Boas in 2012.
The news of United's defeat was relayed to the Stamford Bridge crowd before kick-off and the reaction confirmed the belief that Chelsea had been offered a route back into the title race.
That should have provided all the incentive the side needed to hit the ground running and take control of the game.
Surprisingly, though, they struggled to find any fluency and their performance throughout much of the opening 45 minutes mirrored the disappointing display in the 1-1 home draw with Fulham five days previously.
Villas-Boas had reacted to that result by recalling Drogba at the expense of Fernando Torres and restoring Ramires to the starting line-up in place of Frank Lampard.
Both Drogba and Ramires did their best to inject life into their side's pedestrian first half showing.
By contrast, the visitors looked particularly sharp on the break with Ireland, Marc Albrighton, Gabriel Agbonlahor and Charles N'Zogbia frequently causing the Chelsea backline problems with their pace.
Villa have endured an inconsistent first half of the season and a run of three games without a win coming into this match had done nothing to ease the pressure on manager Alex McLeish.
But they showed no lack of confidence as they attempted to take the game to Chelsea.
The home side finally created a decent opening in the 19th minute when leading scorer Daniel Sturridge sent a curling shot narrowly over.
Drogba quickly followed with a right foot shot that flew wide and when the Ivorian converted from the penalty spot in the 22nd minute, it seemed the momentum was well and truly with the hosts.
Drogba had won the spot-kick himself, drawing a clumsy challenge from Villa centre back Richard Dunne and then placing the ball under keeper Brad Guzan from 12 yards.
But Villas-Boas's side have frequently looked vulnerable at the back this season and they were unable to hold onto the lead for more than five minutes.
Ireland started the move, holding the ball up before releasing N'Zogbia on the left wing and when the ball was played back to the Republic of Ireland international, he finished from close range at the second attempt.
Chelsea needed to provide a quick response if they were to assume their superiority over the visitors.
But apart from an effort from Juan Mata, they were unable to fashion a clear attempt on Guzan's goal and Villa reached half time looking the more convincing team.
That pattern was maintained after the break when James Collins could have given the visitors the lead if he had been able to react more quickly at a 51st minute free kick.
And Agbonlahor was guilty of a worse miss two minutes later after another lightning break that ended with the forward being sent clear on Petr Cech by Albrighton only to lose his nerve and produce a tame finish that was easily saved.
Chelsea pressed forward but were exposed seven minutes from time when Ciaran Clark's pass found Petrov who finished confidently.
Then three minutes later, Ireland intercepted a loose ball from Lampard and set up Bent to make it three.