Andre Villas-Boas' team keep in-touch with those above them with a very narrow, and rather fortunate win against an immensely wasteful Black Cats at Stamford BridgeChelsea battled to a narrow 1-0 win over an extremely wasteful Sunderland side at Stamford Bridge with Frank Lampard scoring the game's only goal.
Andre Villas-Boas made just the one change from the Chelsea side that beat Portsmouth so comfortably in the FA Cup in their last match, as Florent Malouda dropped to the bench with young Spanish midfielder Oriol Romeu making his seventh Premier League start.
Sunderland manager Martin O'Neill also made only one change from their FA Cup win, with Craig Gardner dropping to the bench in favour of Nicklas Bendtner.
The visitors almost started the game perfectly as Stephane Sessegnon surged down the right before beating Ashley Cole and flashing the ball across the goal, but Jose Bosingwa was able to clear the ball before James McClean could find the net.
Despite an arguably sloppy start, Chelsea had the lead with just over 10 minutes played. Bosingwa’s right-wing cross was met fantastically with a scissor-kick at the far-post by Fernando Torres, but the Spaniard’s effort cannoned back off the bar, on to Lampard and past Simon Mignolet.
Following the goal, Sunderland struggled to leave their own half, but Chelsea had just as much trouble forcing Mignolet into action with the hosts content to just knock the ball around in the midfield.
Although there was a period of just under 20 minutes without an awful lot to mention, Mignolet dived across to his goal to catch a long-range Mata free-kick on the half-hour mark, but it looked to have been going wide anyway.
As the first-half progressed, Sunderland managed to get themselves into the contest a little more, but their best chance was spurned as Bendtner got on the end of Sessegnon’s clever forward pass before shooting back just past the far post, missing the target narrowly.
With six minutes to go until half-time, Torres went relatively close once again, this time from outside the area as the former Liverpool man turned Cattermole before striking low towards the left-post, but it whistled past the woodwork harmlessly.
Fernando frustrated | Chelsea squeeze past Sunderland but again no goals for Torres
The first period petered out as an injury to Matthew Kilgallon ensured play was stopped for several minutes, while the centre-back was replaced by Michael Turner, just weeks after recovering from an injury that saw him miss action for well over a year.
The second-half started in a similar vein to the first as Sessegnon tried his luck with a half-volley, however it was fairly comfortable for Cech, and soon after, Torres went close again himself, firing into the side-netting from a tight-angle.
With the first 45 minutes having little in the way of drama, the match appeared to be coming to life after the break with several incidents in a matter of minutes.
First, Mignolet almost gifted Chelsea a second as the goalkeeper dropped Cole’s low cross into the path of Ramires, but the Brazilian failed to anticipate the mistake and the ball bounced off his leg and away.
Then, both sides had a penalty shout each, and both could easily have been given, as Torres went down after being caught by John O’Shea as he broke into the area, then straight down at the other end, Bendtner found himself lying on the floor after Cole barged through him from behind to meet Sessegnon’s left-wing cross.
However, the best chance of all came in the just after the hour mark as Seb Larsson marched down the right-wing before sliding a ball towards the back-post for McClean, but the 22-year-old was caught by surprise and put his effort wide from five yards out.
Torres soon had another penalty claim as the striker squeezed between Larsson and Phil Bardsley before going down, but the referee, somewhat harshly, pointed for a Sunderland free-kick and booked the Spaniard for diving.
As the match went on, neither side could carve open too many clear chances, with probably the most notable event in the final 20 minutes being the arrival of Michael Essien, making his first appearance since May, while Raul Meireles attempted to chip Mignolet, but the Belgian easily tipped it over.Craig Gardner should have secured a point in the dying moments as Sessegnon found him across the goal, but the midfielder put wide from close-range, before Bendtner put wide when one-on-one with Cech, gifting Chelsea the win.