Chelsea moved up into third place of the Barclays Premier League with a comfortable away win, which saw a combination of good fortune and a strong team performance.
Stoke were unbeaten at the Britannia Stadium since February and they started confidently, but it was the visitors who went in front just before the break thanks to an own goal from Jonathan Walters.
Stoke almost had a penalty, only ruled out due to a late offside call, before Walters repeated his earlier trick and put us two in front just after the hour.
Within three minutes we were three up, Frank Lampard smashing in a penalty after Juan Mata was fouled, and the game was won, only for Eden Hazard to grab some headlines for himself with a fine drive 20 minutes from time.
Further good news came with the introduction of John Terry as a substitute late on, two months and one day after he sustained a knee injury against Liverpool.
It was the captain whose slip provided Stoke, and Walters, with the chance of a late consolation when he tripped the Ireland international, who dusted himself down to take the penalty, only to blaze it high over the crossbar and round off what was probably the worst day of his professional career.
Three points, goal difference boosted and a climb above Spurs in the league table makes for a very successful Saturday afternoon.
Rafael Benitez made significant changes to his side, with Petr Cech available once more in goal and Lampard selected to captain the side from the middle of midfield. That meant David Luiz dropping into defence to replace Gary Cahill, who left the squad’s hotel to be at his partner’s side as she went into labour. A baby boy was born shortly before kick-off.
Up front Demba Ba made his first Premier League start in place of Fernando Torres, while Oscar was back on the bench with Ryan Bertrand operating down the left wing.
On a bitterly cold Staffordshire afternoon it was the home side who first threatened to raise the termperature when a long-range volley was deflected into Kenwyne Jones’s path after just seven minutes. With only Cech to beat, the striker dragged his shot wide of the far post.
At the other end Hazard, whose performance against Swansea in midweek was one of few pluses for Chelsea, tricked his way inside the area but could not pick out Ba with his pass. That was followed by Cesar Azpilicueta trying similar from the right, but achieving the same result.
They were our only attacks in an opening where the home side forced a series of corners, always dangerous against such a physically imposing side, though but for a Steven Nzonzi header well claimed by Cech, there was little threat on the Chelsea goal.
We finally broke forward again on 24 minutes, and after some excellent possession football it looked for all the world as though Lampard would fire us in front when from 15 yards he drove hard and low to Asmir Begovic’s right. The goalkeeper reacted quickly though, and stuck out just enough leg to make the save.
Ba forced another save from Begovic 10 minutes later, the keeper going with his legs again, and Ramires was denied by a flying tackle following up, but the stopper could do nothing on the stroke of half-time as Azpilicueta floated a cross into the danger area, and with Juan Mata poised to convert, Walters dived in to block, only to send an unstoppable header into the corner of the net.
It was a huge slice of luck for Chelsea, and provided us with a half-time lead it was hard to argue we deserved. The job now was to preserve it for the second 45 minutes.
Five minutes into the second period we had the chance to double our advantage when Ba broke down the right and pulled back into the area for Ashley Cole, who shot hard first-time but once more Begovic blocked with his foot, this time at the near post.
Cech’s first action came shortly later when Nzonzi thundered a drive towards his top corner, bringing an acrobatic tip over the crossbar. From the corner, Huth headed narrowly wide.
This prompted a short-lived spell of pressure from Stoke, which brought a penalty claim from Etherington. Ref Andre Marriner pointed to the spot following Azpilicueta’s tackle, but we received a reprieve courtesy of Sian Massey’s offside flag.
The fortune kept coming.First, Walters headed Mata’s corner into his own net to double our lead and his own tally of own goals, and then Mata was brought down inside the area to gift Lampard a penalty, which he converted powerfully straight down the middle.
From one up and facing a penalty, inside five minutes we were three goals to the good and well out of sight. They do say football is a funny old game.
Well in control, Chelsea now could press for more goals. Lampard should have had a second when Ba headed down Mata’s cross, but he fired straight at Begovic from six yards.
Hazard’s stock continues to rise, and he added to his burgeoning reputation with a stunning individual effort just inside the final 20 minutes, cutting inside on to his left foot and arrowing a left-footed drive into the far top corner from around 30 yards. Begovic never saw it, and it will surely feature when Chelsea’s Goal of the Season contenders are announced.
Terry’s introduction came with 12 minutes to go, and he was joined by Paulo Ferreira not long after, the Portuguese still a crowd favourite with the travelling support, who made their appreciation for both heard.
A Terry slip inside his own box saw him trip Walters two minutes from time. Given the afternoon he had endured, it was brave of the Stoke man to volunteer himself for the resultant spot kick, yet when he blazed it high into the Boothen End, it seemed of very little surprise. He will want to forget the afternoon quickly, but for Chelsea, it was one to savour.
Stoke (4-5-1): Begovic; Cameron, Shawcross (c), Huth, Wilkinson; Walters, Whelan, Nzonzi, Adam (Whitehead 78), Etherington (Kightly 85); Jones (Jerome 78).
Unused subs Sorensen, Upson, Crouch, Shotton.
Booked Wilkinson 37
Chelsea (4-2-3-1): Cech; Azpilicueta (Ferreira 82), Ivanovic, David Luiz; Cole; Ramires, Lampard (c); Hazard, Mata (Terry 79), Bertrand; Ba (Torres 70).
Unused subs Turnbull, Ake, Oscar, Marin.
Goals Walters (o.g.) 45,62 Lampard (pen) 65, Hazard 72
Referee Andre Marriner