LONDON - Jose Mourinho admitted he spoke to a ball-boy during Chelsea's shock 1-0 defeat at Crystal Palace because he feared a confrontation between the youngster and one of his players.
Chelsea defender Cesar Azpilicueta was involved in a minor altercation with the ball-boy after growing frustrated at the time taken to return the ball in the second half at Selhurst Park on Saturday.
At the time, Chelsea were trailing to John Terry's 52nd-minute own goal and the incident reflected the growing frustration as Mourinho's side struggled to work their way back into the game.
"I went there to stop Azpilicueta because he's an emotional guy, one of the guys who was not losing his spirit," Mourinho said.
"I was afraid Azpi might push the kid or do something, so I went there." The incident revived memories of Eden Hazard's clash with a ball-boy at Swansea last season that earned the Chelsea winger a three-game ban, although this incident is unlikely to attract any punishment.
Mourinho, though, believes the ball-boys had been told to delay returning the ball in a bid to slow the game down.
"The kids are educated to do this, but if a player hits a ball-boy, the person who educates them disappears," Mourinho said.
"The player stays in trouble for pushing or punching or kicking the kid. The way Azpi was going, because the kids were doing that all the time...so I went to stop him and I had the chance to speak with the kid, who was cute.
"He came to me and I told him if he does this, one day somebody will punch him. I told him. Last year, what happened with Eden, you know...
"But the kids, it's not their fault. The kid said 'yes'."
Players' mentality in question
Mourinho's angst at the ball-boy's delaying tactics was prompted by the realisation that his team had blown a chance to consolidate their position on top of the table.
He claimed the defeat means his side will not now win the Premier League and questioned the mentality of some of his players at Selhurst Park.
"We lacked mentality. And a little bit of quality. Mentality because the opponents beat us clearly on that," said Mourinho, whose side will surrender top spot if Liverpool beat Tottenham Hotspur on Sunday.
"They were strong, aggressive, committed. Every one of them played, I think, at the top of their potential and that, in football, is important.
"And, after that, I think also we missed some qualities. I know we could have scored before them in the first half, and we had chances to equalise, but even so I think it's fair to say they deserved it.
"Clearly we have some players because of their profile who find it difficult to perform in some profile of matches.
"You have Ivanovic, Terry, Cahill and Azpilicueta perform in the sun, in the rain, small pitches, big pitches, aggressive teams, non-aggressive teams, possession teams, and they perform every game from day one to the last day.
"And you have other players who are fantastic in some matches and disappear in other matches. You can find easily in these matches something in common. You can find it clearly." Mourinho's side must recover quickly ahead of the trip to face Paris Saint-Germain in the first leg of their Champions League quarter-final on Wednesday, although he denied the looming trip had been a distraction.
"I don't think it affected them because, if they do have their mind in Paris, they risk not playing in Paris. After that it makes no sense," he added.
The win moved Palace five points clear of the bottom three and boosted their hopes of avoiding a quick return to the Championship.
Palace manager Tony Pulis said: "It's a very important result for us. Our results had dropped off, but the performances had been OK, but to beat Chelsea will give everyone a boost to push on for the last seven games."