Frank Lampard finally overtook Bobby Tambling’s goalscoring record as two second-half goals gave Chelsea a 2-1 win at Aston Villa on Saturday to all but secure their place in next season's Champions League.
Christian Benteke's first-half strike – his 23rd of the season – gave the home side the lead on 15 minutes, before Ramires received his marching orders for a second bookable offense on the stroke of half-time.
But the Belgian went from hero to villain as he was then sent off on the hour mark and Lampard equalized moments later and then scored the winner to beat Tambling’s record Chelsea goal haul.
Paul Lambert made one enforced change from his side’s 2-1 win at old club Norwich as Erich Lichaj replaced the injured Matt Lowton at right back.
The visitors, however, made a raft of changes as skipper John Terry, Lampard and Victor Moses all came back into the starting lineup for Chelsea’s 67th game of an exhausting campaign, while Demba Ba replaced Fernando Torres up front.
But it was Benteke not Ba who grabbed the early limelight as a moment of brilliance marked an end to a cagey opening 15 minutes. The Belgian took up possession inside the away half and charged into the penalty area, brushing past Gary Cahill and sliding a composed left-footed finish past Petr Cech at the near post.
Benteke celebrated his 14th goal since the turn of the year by unveiling a Stiliyan Petrov t-shirt and a fitting tribute followed in the 19th minute as Villa Park erupted in applause to honor the now retired midfielder.
Back on the pitch, the hosts' superiority had begun to diminish. Lampard offered a threatening warning when Villa's player of the year Brad Guzan had to parry his driven free kick onto the post after 29 minutes.
But the home side had Premier League safety firmly within their sights and Benteke almost broke free for the second time 11 minutes later, with Terry bringing him down to earn himself a booking.
And the Chelsea captain was then followed into the book by Ramires, with the Brazilian's high foot earning him his second yellow; Chelsea were down to 10 men before half-time.
Rafael Benitez’s response was to bring David Luiz on for the ineffectual Moses. Yet if anyone was making a difference after the break, it was Gabriel Agbonlahor, whose phenomenal pace down the left was causing the visitors all sorts of trouble.
Disaster struck for the Villans on the hour mark, however, as yet another high-footed challenge saw Benteke this time receive his marching orders for a second yellow.
Lampard made Villa pay moments later, curling a superb left-footed strike past Guzan for his 202nd Chelsea goal.
Cahill then needed his header to be cleared off the line by Ashley Westwood before Villa's American stopper was tested by a Luiz free kick.
But there was only one man who would score the goal that would effectively clinch the Blues' place in the top four - and that was Lampard, who netted with a characteristically brilliant finish.