London: Chelsea fans, spoiled by success in recent years, showed their anger at the team`s poor run of form by leaving Stamford Bridge in their droves before the end of Saturday`s 3-1 home defeat by Aston Villa.
While Villa`s delirious players ran to the corner of the ground to celebrate with their supporters, the rest of the stadium was half-empty -- a sure sign the Chelsea faithful are growing increasingly impatient with manager Andre Villas-Boas.
The young Portuguese, however, looks unlikely to buckle under the weight of expectation at a club that has gone through seven managers in seven years.
"The fans have a right to show their disappointment," Villas-Boas said after Chelsea dropped to fifth in the Premier League table. "The resentment they feel we must take on board.”
"It`s fair and we respect them. They are the people who represent this club and its history and they are the most important people.”
"It`s a pity and we regret putting on a show like this," said Villas-Boas after the Londoners were sunk by goals from Stephen Ireland, Stilian Petrov and Darren Bent. "There is no running away or excuses."
Chelsea, who won the Premier League and FA Cup double under Carlo Ancelotti 19 months ago, have taken three points from their last four matches.
Trailing Manchester City by 11 points at the halfway stage of the season, and with the leaders having a game in hand against Sunderland on Sunday, Villas-Boas has conceded the title race is all but run for the 2005, 2006 and 2010 champions.
"The Premier League seems very difficult for us now," said the 34-year-old who took over when Italian Ancelotti was sacked at the end of last season.
"That is the reality we face based on these December fixtures. But there are still two good tournaments for us to go for in 2012: the Champions League and the FA Cup."
Chelsea, though, are unrecognisable from the team that won the double.
The spine of the side is creaking, linchpin striker Didier Drogba and England midfielder Frank Lampard are 33 and captain and central defender John Terry is 31.
Fernando Torres, Chelsea`s record signing from Liverpool last January, is in and out of the team and the midfielders are not a patch on their double-winning colleagues.
The 20-year-old Oriol Romeu is promising and Raul Meireles and Ramires are diligent and enthusiastic but in season 2009-10 Chelsea had three high-class midfield operators in Lampard, Michael Ballack and Michael Essien.
Ballack is back in Germany with Bayer Leverkusen but Villas-Boas will hope Essien`s expected return from a long-term injury later this month can provide much-needed support to his team`s engine room.
The one plus-point for the Londoners on Saturday came when Drogba notched up his 150th goal for the club from a first-half penalty.
The Ivorian is now Chelsea`s joint fourth-highest scorer alongside the `King of Stamford Bridge` Peter Osgood and Roy Bentley. Only Lampard (178), Kerry Dixon (193) and Bobby Tambling (202) have netted more.
The next fixture for Chelsea is Monday`s league visit to struggling Wolverhampton Wanderers (1500).