Chelsea slumped to a third defeat in four Premier League games as second-half goals from Mario Lemina and Matt Doherty earned Wolves a deserved 2-1 victory at Molineux.
Lemina headed in unmarked from Pablo Sarabia’s corner early in the second period, just reward after Gary O’Neil’s side had weathered early pressure and the hosts had spurned a host of chances, most glaringly from Raheem Sterling.
Chelsea laboured to find a way back, but as so often this season failed to find the key pass in the final third, with Cole Palmer noticeably out of sorts.
Then in stoppage time and with the visitors committed forward, Wolves broke and Hugo Bueno crossed for Doherty to take advantage of a poor clearance to slam home a second.
Substitute Christopher Nkunku headed his first Chelsea goal in the dying minutes, but Mauricio Pochettino’s side slipped to a third away league defeat on the spin.
Armando Broja spurned the game’s first opening. After Sterling fed Malo Gusto down the right, his low cross into the box arrived perfectly at the foot of the Albanian, playing as a lone striker with Nicolas Jackson moved to the wing. Looking to shoot first time, Broja kicked at fresh air and the chance was gone.
Sterling was Chelsea’s clearest danger in the first half, running at Wolves down either flank and pitching inviting deliveries. The best of them fell to Jackson who had found space, but as the ball dropped, his touch failed to match his movement and the pass squirmed beneath his foot and away.
After half an hour, it was the turn of his team-mates to vent their anger towards the England international. Sterling did brilliantly to harry and dispossess Joao Gomes, Wolves’ last man, who dithered on the ball deep in his own half. With the defence stranded upfield, Sterling advanced on goal with Jackson and Palmer wide open beside him.
Either player would have had a tap-in; instead, Sterling inexplicably went alone and hit a weak shot straight at Jose Sa.
Wolves’ best chances of the half came in the closing seconds, first when Sarabia fired just wide from the edge of the box via a deflection, then Hee Chan Hwang raced clear of Levi Colwill from a ball over the top and lashed over.
They began the second half with similar urgency, Gomes hitting a shot that nicked off Lesley Ugochukwu and grazed the post before defender Toti got forward from the back and drew an outstanding point-blank save from Chelsea’s stand-in goalkeeper Djordje Petrovic.
It was a warning the visitors did not heed and the goal moments later was an almost carbon copy of Toti’s chance. Sarabia’s corner dropped into the heart of the Chelsea penalty area, but despite the obvious danger no one in blue jumped or moved to attack the ball.
That left Lemina with a simple header, climbing above the grounded Ugochukwu to nod towards the back post and in beyond the stranded Petrovic.
Pochettino sent on Nkunku for his Premier League debut, with the ineffectual Broja departing. He nearly offered Chelsea instant reprieve, denied on the goal line by Toti, who gratefully booted clear.
Sterling then went close again, set up by Palmer on the right after Nkunku had picked him out only for an heroic last-ditch block from Craig Dawson diverting the ball over Sa’s crossbar. The balance of the game was tipping in Chelsea’s favour.
Their growing confidence led to their undoing. Three minutes into added time, Bueno broke down the left, Benoit Badiashile’s attempted clearance was atrocious and Doherty crashed it home to take the roof of Molineux.
Nkunku headed in from Sterling’s cross minutes later, but barely any Chelsea fans had stayed to see it.