A bit like a Ferrari with a misfiring engine, Chelsea stalled in the Midlands yesterday, failing to compensate for Frank Lampard's absence and losing their first league game of the season to Martin O'Neill's efficient Villa. For the club's owner Roman Abramovich, watching stony-faced in the stands, it is presumably not good enough.

As executive toys go, Stamford Bridge and its accompanying assets were something of an indulgence even for the Russian oligarch. That his considerable investment is not giving him the pleasure and satisfaction he originally envisaged, should be a major cause for concern, especially for manager Jose Mourinho.

While Villa Park thrilled to the spectacle that was Gabriel Agbonlahor, Luke Moore and Ashley Young rampaging down the flanks, Nigel Reo-Coker and Gareth Barry bossing midfield and local boy Zat Knight scoring on his Villa debut, the Chelsea support - Abramovich included - squirmed uncomfortably in their seats.

This was not the all-singing, all-dancing Chelsea side that Mourinho had promised in the close season, when appeasing Abramovich seemed a priority. Despite starting with natural-born wide players, in Shaun Wright-Phillips and Florent Malouda, the visitors registered just two shots on target. Up front and lonely, sole striker Didier Drogba made no impact.

Which was something of a shame for Villa goalkeeper Scott Carson, whose hopes of persuading England coach Steve McClaren he is ready for senior duty were all-but dashed by the opposition's reluctance to test his reflexes. Without Lampard taking matters into his own hands and driving through the middle, Chelsea showed no real bite.

Or imagination. Or flair. Even under the most intolerable pressure, midway through the second half, with Chelsea hell-bent on an equaliser, Villa still had the presence of mind to use their width and energy on the flanks. It bought time and ultimately a second goal, Young's delivery from the right, superbly converted by Agbonlahor two minutes from time.

"We played terrifically. I thought our commitment was second to none and we kept going. Some of our players were out on their feet," acknowledged O'Neill.

Consistency is key. Yesterday represented Chelsea's first league defeat since losing to Liverpool at Anfield in January. Villa suffered a similar setback on day one of the new season.

Last night, Chelsea were anxious to deny another rift in the on/off relationship between owner and manager. Abramovich, who clearly craves the same sort of excitement generated by Villa yesterday, went into the away dressing room at the finish and shook hands with all the players.

But not, it transpires, until after Mourinho had vacated the premises.

Of course, had referee Mark Clattenburg not ducked the issue and awarded Wright-Phillips a penalty in the first minute, the outcome might well have been different.

Martin Laursen's only mistake in an otherwise stylish, heroic performance sent the Chelsea winger sprawling but the official curiously unmoved.

Thereafter it was a different tale. Agbonlahor asked questions of Cech with a stunning turn and strike in the 11th minute, while the imposing John Carew troubled John Terry for the duration. Alongside new signing Alex, the Chelsea captain looked distinctly uncomfortable. At set-pieces, Mourinho's side have lost their air of invincibility.

Indeed, it was a corner that sent the visitors heading back down the M40 empty handed. Just moments after the restart, Cech tipped Young's rising effort over the cross bar, but from Barry's ensuing corner, newcomer Knight rose above Drogba and John Obi Mikel to make the perfect first impression with a beefy header.

Within minutes Mourinho had made three substitutions, but to no avail. Although Joe Cole shaved the post, Villa held their nerve and composure at the back, breaking down the right two minutes from time, for the outstanding Young and Agbonlahor to apply the finishing and decisive touch.