When Donny van de Beek slammed in the fourth for Ajax, early in the second half, all seemed lost for Chelsea.
Frank Lampard’s young players could be forgiven for wondering if that great night out in Amsterdam had all been a dream.
Suddenly the memories were fuzzy and heads were spinning. But not for long.
Reece James celebrates after scoring the equaliser for Chelsea during an incredible night of football at Stamford Bridge
The defender smashed the ball home from inside the area as the hosts came from 4-1 down to pull level in an incredible tie
Chelsea’s No 24 celebrates in front of jubilant supporters after Lampard’s men loooked dead and buried in their European tie
MATCH FACTS AND PLAYER RATINGS
CHELSEA (4-2-3-1): Kepa 6; Azpilicueta 7, Zouma 6, Tomori 5, Alonso 4 (James 46, 7); Kovacic 7 (Batshuayi 87), Jorginho 7.5; Willian 6, Mount 6 (Hudson-Odoi 60, 7), Pulisic 6.5; Abraham 6.
SUBS NOT USED: Caballero, Christensen, Gilmour, Kante.
GOALS: Jorginho 5, 71 (both pens), Azpilicueta 63, James 74
BOOKINGS: Tomori, Azpilicueta
MANAGER: Frank Lampard 7
AJAX (4-2-3-1): Onana 6; Mazraoui 6, Veltman 4, Blind 4, Tagliafico 6; De Beek 7, Martinez 7; Neres 6.5 (Schuurs 72, 6), Ziyech 8 (Alvarez 72, 6), Promes 7.5; Tadic 6.
SUBS NOT USED: Varela, Huntelaar, De Jong, Marin, Dest.
GOALS: Abraham (og) 2, Promes 20, Kepa (og) 35, Van de Beek 55
BOOKINGS: Veltman, Blind, Promes
SENT OFF: Blind, Veltman
MANAGER: Erik ten Hag 7
REFEREE: Gianluca Rocchi (ITA) 6
If Lampard was proud of his team’s 1-0 win in Holland two weeks ago then it was eclipsed by this spirited fight back to earn a point from 4-1 down in a breathless second half at Stamford Bridge.
Cesar Azpilicueta inspired hope when he turned a shot from Tammy Abraham over the line from close range and the Jorginho reduced the deficit to one when he converted his second penalty of the night.
This was the key incident, a passage of play when Ajax conceded their second spot-kick of the night and were reduced to nine men with two red cards in a matter of seconds.
First Daley Blind was dismissed for a second yellow card, for a foul in the build up to the penalty which was awarded for a handball against Joel Veltman.
Then Veltman followed him off, shown a second yellow card during a lengthy protest.
Suddenly Ajax were outnumbered and rattled. Memories of the semi-final collapse against Tottenham came flooding back.
Jorginho scored from the spot to make it 4-3 and substitute Reece James was the unlikely saviour, forcing the ball into the net after Kurt Zouma headed against the bar from a corner.
James became Chelsea’s youngest ever Champions League goalscorer but there was really no time to dwell on such statistics.
Azpilicueta thought he had found the winner and slid towards a corner flag on his belly to celebrate, kissing his captain’s armband before the video assistant referee crushed his emotion by ruling out the goal for a handball offence.
In the end there was no winner and no-one deserved to lose.
Ajax earned their point for their creative flair in the early part of the game and their determination to hang on with nine men, although they rode their luck.
Michy Batshauyi twice went close in the breathless closing stages and was denied by a fabulous save by Andre Onana.
Chelsea can take satisfaction from their response even if the euphoria was tempered by an injury to Mason Mount.
The game started as it intended to go on.
Cesar Azpilicueta fires through a host of red and white shirts to score what he thinks is Chelsea’s fifth goal of the evening
The Spanish full back turns away to celebrate after finding the net, but Ajax players can be seen protesting behind him
VAR confirms that the goals has been ruled out after it became apparent the ball had touched Tammy Abraham’s arm
Less than two minutes had passed when Azpilicueta conceded a free-kick and Quincy Promes produced a vicious curling set-piece from wide on the Ajax left.
Tammy Abraham made a complete hash of his attempted clearance and succeeded only in slicing the ball from his shin and past Kepa Arrizabalaga.
Promes celebrated, as did a small pocket of away fans in the West Stand. This was a section of sponsors and corporate supporters immune from the UEFA ban imposed on Ajax for crowd trouble in Valencia, earlier in this campaign.
The section in the Shed End normally reserved for the travelling fans stood empty covered by a banners promising to keep the blue flag flying high.
The game turned on an incredible incident on the 68-minute mark when referee Gianluca Rocchi sent off two Ajax players
After giving Daley Blind his marching orders, the Italian official also showed a second yellow to defender Joel Veltman
Once again, Jorginho kept his cool from the spot to put Frank Lampard’s side right back in the mix at Stamford Bridge
Chelsea hit back within seconds when Christian Pulisic carved into the Ajax penalty area and was cut down by a mistimed slide tackle from Veltman.
Italian referee Gianluca Rocchi pointed to the spot – a decision backed by the video assistant referee – and Jorginho outfoxed goalkeeper Onana with his stuttering run up.
Onana collapsed in one direction and the ball was rolled gently into the opposite corner.
Abraham was slid clear and beat the Ajax ‘keeper only to have strayed a yard offside and the goal was ruled out before Lampard’s team conceded the second.
Again, it was an in-swinging cross which caused them problems in the heart of defence, this time delivered from the right by Hakim Ziyech.
Promes drifted behind Azpilicueta at the back post and guided a smart header past Kepa from six yards out.
Ajax were dominating possession and Chelsea were struggling to cope with the quality of the delivery from wide areas.
Chelsea captain Azpilicueta slides in at the far post to give his side hope and bring the deficit down to just two goals
Donny van de Beek fires his side into a three-goal lead at Stamford Bridge as he finds the bottom corner with a low shot
The night started at a blistering pace when Tammy Abraham accidentally diverted the ball into the back of his own net
The Chelsea forward reacts after inadvertantly giving the Dutch side the lead after just two minutes at Stamford Bridge
Abraham went uncomfortably close to another own goal, this time glancing a header bounced out for a corner as he tried to clear another free-kick and then Ajax claimed their third in familiar circumstances.
Ziyech swung over another free-kick from close to the corner flag and it swerved deep towards the back post, bounced into the frame of the goal and smacked Kepa in the face as he scrambled across his goal line.
His attempt to recover had resulted in another own goal.
Chelsea trailed by two, Ajax were bristling with confidence and a bizarre hush settled over the Bridge.
Lampard snapped into action during the half-time interval. Off came Marcos Alonso who had struggled to keep Ziyech and David Neres under wraps.
Jorginho levelled from the spot for the Blues after the hosts were awarded a penalty just moments later during a fast start
A relieved Abraham celebrates with his team-mate after parity is restored after just four minutes of the match
The impressive Quincy Promes stoops to restore the visitors’ lead at Stamford Bridge after just 20 minutes at the Bridge
The Dutch side extended their lead when Hakim Ziyech’s free kick rebounded off the post and in via Kepa Arrizabalaga’s face
The Moroccan international is congratulated by his team-mates after his free-kick caught out the Spanish shot-stopper
Azpilicueta moved to left-back and Reece James stepped in at right-back.
The second half started with a thunderous run out of defence by Zouma who reached the edge of the Ajax penalty box before he threw a couple of step-overs and launched a shot high into the Matthew Harding Stand.
Lampard could not resist a smile. The finish was wild but here was a positive show of intent and a healthier tempo from his team.
Abraham forced Onana into action, first with a header and then when played clear by Mateo Kovacic.
There was a hint of offside but the flag stayed down and the Ajax goalkeeper produced an athletic save to protect the lead.
The home fans were revived albeit briefly.
Then Ajax broke away, Fikayo Tomori missed a tackle and Ziyech, again drifting naturally to the right from his number 10 position, picked out Van de Beek in front of goal.
Then came the revival. First Azpilicueta and then Jorginho and James against nine men and then the search for a winner.
Even Ajax continued to win it and Kepa made a fine late save to deny Lisandro Martinez.
Callum Hudson-Odoi flashed a shot wide and Onana made a fabulous save from Batshuayi on the turn.
Lampard was stunned when only four minutes were added by the officials but there would be no winner and, in truth, no-one deserved to lose.
Chelsea boss Frank Lampard scratches his head during a pulsating start to proceedings in west London on Tuesday night
A group of Ajax supporters, clad in half-and-half scarves celebrate as they watch their side race into a healthy lead