Michy Batshuayi stepped out of the shadows to strike a famous late winner as Chelsea sealed the Premier League title with two games to spare after a hard-fought 1-0 win at West Brom.
Batshuayi had not scored in the league since August but slid to meet a Cesar Azpilicueta cut-back in the 82nd minute – just moments after coming off the bench – to ensure the Blues secured a second league crown in three seasons and Antonio Conte triumphed at the first attempt.
Chelsea had been frustrated during a goalless first half in which the hosts defended stubbornly, yet a game seemingly set for stalemate might have swung the other way had Salomon Rondon and Nacer Chadli finished fine second-half chances.
Eden Hazard and Diego Costa had toiled in front of goal as Chelsea looked forced to wait at least until the weekend, but Batshuayi proved the unlikely hero to spark wild celebrations from Conte on the touchline at the final whistle.
Tottenham’s loss at West Ham last Friday and Chelsea’s 3-0 defeat of Middlesbrough on Monday had meant the stage was set, and a dramatic late success at The Hawthorns means Conte’s men have an unassailable 10-point lead over Spurs, who have three games to play.
Tony Pulis had warned his side would do their “damnedest” to make Chelsea work for the prize and Rondon fired an early warning, beating David Luiz to a header that forced Thibaut Courtois to tip behind with just a minute on the clock.
Cesc Fabregas, who starred in the win over Boro that put his team-mates on the brink, was soon plotting again, lofting a pass forward that Pedro miscued, before delivering an inswinging free-kick that just evaded Gary Cahill.
A Pedro cross struck Chris Brunt’s arm yet left referee Michael Oliver unmoved, and though Chelsea were dominant in possession, the hosts carried a threat on the break, which could have counted had James McClean’s pass not forced Rondon to check his run.
Hazard tumbled under Jonny Evans’ attention, the appeals half-hearted, and Chelsea continued to be frustrated by a disciplined Baggies defence, Fabregas and Pedro firing wide from the edge of the box as Conte paced his area.
Chelsea resumed action with sharpened focus, Ben Foster brilliantly pushing away a Victor Moses drive and Claudio Yacob forced to clear on the line when Hazard jinked at the byline as the breakthrough remained elusive.
Costa was taunted by the home fans as he slipped in the box while attempting to swivel and an Albion side growing in confidence so nearly punished Chelsea, Rondon breaking free only to be denied by a desperately backtracking Azpilicueta in the 71st minute.
Conte had watched on with a grimace as Rondon raced away and Nacer Chadli had a glorious opportunity minutes later, only to fire wide.
The Chelsea boss threw on Willian and Batshuayi for Pedro and Hazard as the half entered its final stages and a man seemingly surplus to requirements picked his moment, tucking beyond Foster as his team-mates exorcised demons of last term’s underachievement with a fifth title of the Roman Abramovich reign.