Down. And out. Slumped on the pitch, feigning injury, John Terry knew what was coming next. It was the count...
After a season to rival the worst in his 18 year Chelsea career, the Blues' captain was looking at leaving on a low. Mid-table, no silverware, no European qualification, and no decade of dominance as promised by the returning, then departing Jose Mourinho.
Sidelined by injury for much of the final stages of the campaign, he could only look on as the interim custodianship of Guus Hiddink delivered little more than a brief dead cat bounce as his Chelsea trudged through mediocre performance after mediocre performance.
With no contract offer on the table, and having taken the fight to the back pages, the countdown was commenced to the end of an era. The end of Chelsea's most decorated player, and greatest ever captain.
Every last fibre of his being, of the club's medical resources, was put into getting Terry fit for that showdown against Tottenham, a final of sorts, where Chelsea could win nothing, but the glory of spoiling a rival's season. He battled back to fitness, and stepped into the cauldron of Stamford Bridge for a game described by some as the most brutal seen in years.
Terry slumped in the first half, showing vulnerability in the case of both goals conceded. But he, and his side, rallied – storming the second, battling back to parity, and going on to hand the title to Leicester City, and to the man who first handed him that captain's armband. Job done.
With only three games remaining, and still with no sign of a reprieve from up high, Terry travelled to Sunderland. Nothing to play for, but pride, and the adulation of the fans who have held him in higher esteem than any other player for so long.
Hiddink's team selection, following the promise to pay youth, raised eyebrows. But things started well for the Blues. Diego Costa's precise finish showed-up the opposition for their lack of ideas, and there could – should - have been more.
A wonder strike from Wahbi Khazri levelled things, but not for long, as Nemanja Matic reclaimed the lead in first half added time. The Serbian, out of sorts all season, refused to celebrate, later saying: “I have my reasons.”
Sunderland, like a cornered wild animal, desperately searched for a way out. They pressed and pressed, showing far greater desire than their visitors. Chelsea, following the efforts against Tottenham looked exhausted, as first Fabio Borini, then Jermain Defoe gave the Black Cats the lead, and the last word.
Desperate, battling to the last but unable to get the ball to the opposite end of the pitch, Terry seemed to try to settle things by targeting the men who inflicted the wound. First Defoe, then Khazri were clattered – and out came the red card. No complaints. A two-match ban, by virtue of the red he had received against West Brom back in August.
And then the count was over.
Still down – and now out for the rest of the season. Chelsea's prize fighter KO-ed, perhaps never to return. No going out on a high, a la Didier Drogba. No emotional farewell.
A career more glittering than any other the club has seen. Ended in infamy.
Knocked-out by his own punch.