In the end this defeat for Sunderland wasn’t as damaging as it could have been. Results elsewhere went in their favour to ensure that they will be playing Premier League football once again next season. Their neighbours in the North East weren’t so lucky. Both Newcastle and Middlesbrough will be playing in the Championship.
This game had little meaning for Guus Hiddink’s Chelsea - who could only seal second spot if Liverpool lost and an unlikely six goal swing in goal difference occurred. Nicolas Anelka did ensure that he ended the season as the league’s top marksman ahead of Cristiano Ronaldo with a superb effort just after half time.
Thoughts of Wembley next weekend didn’t stop Hiddink from naming a virtual full strength side. The only absentee was Frank Lampard, who was replaced in midfield by Juliano Beletti.
It was Michael Essien who had the first effort on goal of the game, directing a header into the side netting of Martin Fulop’s goal.
Grant Leadbitter tested Petr Cech with a shot from 22 yards out, and Didier Drogba had two efforts on goal, forcing Fulop into a save with one of them.
The Blues were forced into a change with 25 minutes gone. Beletti had picked up an injury and Michael Ballack took his place.
The fare on offer did little to stimulate the crowd inside the Stadium of Light, but the news that Newcastle had gone a goal down at Aston Villa raised the noise levels as the Black Cats’ survival chances received a huge boost.
Florent Malouda almost punctuated the jubilant mood within the stadium when he struck the crossbar with a fierce shot just before half time.
Anelka ratcheted up the tension minutes after half time with his 19th goal of the season, and what a goal it was. The Frenchman picked the ball up 40-yards from goal and created himself some space to unleash an unstoppable shot which left Fulop grasping at thin air. It took him one above Ronaldo in the race for the Premier League Golden Boot, and it was a fine way to seal the accolade.
But Sunderland wasted little time in getting level. Cech - who put in an assured performance so far - failed to collect a cross and the ball fell to Kieran Richardson, who fired into the back of the net.
A draw would guarantee Sunderland’s survival. Things almost got even better for the home side when Steed Malbranque weaved his way past three Chelsea players and forced Cech into a save.
Substitute Salomon Kalou put Sunderland fans back on edge when he scored with a shot from outside the area that beat Fulop at his near post.
Ashley Cole added a third after confusion in the Sunderland defence led to the ball breaking to him in the box.
Kenwyne Jones scored with a header in stoppage time but Ricky Sbraiga’s side stayed up by virtue of results elsewhere. They can plan for trips to Anfield, Old Trafford, Stamford Bridge and the Emirates next year. They will have to do so without Sbraiga at the helm, but for their fierce rivals Newcastle and Middlesbrough a much more uncertain future awaits.