Aaron Lennon kept Tottenham’s Champions League challenge on track as his side came from behind to win at Sunderland.
Spurs trailed at the break to John O’Shea’s first goal for the Black Cats despite having enjoyed the better of a first half during which striker Emmanuel Adebayor hit the bar from just two yards.
However, Carlos Cuellar’s own goal three minutes after the restart gave the visitors a foothold, and they took full advantage with 51 minutes gone when Lennon sped through to beat keeper Simon Mignolet.
Had it not been for the Belgian’s excellence, Jermain Defoe would have wrapped up the points on the hour with a shot from point-blank range which looked odds-on to end up in the back of the net, and he also kept out Adebayor’s late effort.
Martin O’Neill’s side battled manfully for a way back into the game, but Spurs held out with little difficulty to claim a second successive Barclays Premier League win on the road.
Sunderland could hardly have headed into the game with any more confidence having dispensed with champions Manchester City on Boxing Day to claim a third victory in four league outings.
On paper at least, today’s fixture looked perhaps the more winnable of the two, but O’Neill was under no illusions as to how difficult a contest it would prove to be having seen Spurs dismantle former club Aston Villa in their last outing.
In the event, two sides with a reputations for hitting teams hard and fast on the counter started relatively cautiously and genuine chances were few and far between during the opening 45 minutes.
Adebayor failed to make the most of Gareth Bale’s enterprising fourth-minute run and pull-back, and Spurs keeper Hugo Lloris was able to collect Craig Gardner’s deflected free-kick with little difficulty seconds later.
As the half wore on, the Black Cats, who had hurt City in wide areas on Wednesday, worked their way into several promising positions, but Stephane Sessegnon and James McClean were able to pick out only Lloris with their final balls.
Tottenham began to shade the game in terms of possession and they created a series of openings.
Sandro could not extend Mignolet with a bouncing 21st-minute shot from distance, and Bale was similarly wasteful when presented with a headed chance by Lennon, who was giving makeshift left-back Matt Kilgallon a tough time.
In the meantime, Mignolet had rushed from his line to block Adebayor’s flick after the strike had been played in by Sandro, but the Togo international should have put the visitors ahead on the half-hour.
Cuellar failed to cut out Jermain Defoe’s curling shot, although he took the pace off it to allow Adebayor to get to the loose ball before Mignolet.
However, the strike somehow managed to hit the bar from just two yards and Sunderland were able to breathe again.
The home side created their first effort of note seven minutes before the break when Cuellar looped a header over from Adam Johnson’s free-kick, and it was they who took the lead two minutes later.
Neither Stephen Fletcher nor O’Shea could make meaningful contact with Sebastian Larsson’s free-kick as it sped towards goal, but after the Scot had seen his follow-up blocked by Lloris, the Republic of Ireland international, back in the starting line-up after illness, gleefully swept the ball into the unguarded net.
O’Neill’s men returned in determined mood and the way Johnson went past Bale before seeing his cross hacked clear by Sandro might have proved inspirational.
However, their lead and optimism evaporated within six disastrous minutes.
There was an element of fortune about Spurs’ equaliser when Cuellar headed a 48th-minute corner into his own net, but things went from bad to worse for the home side just three minutes later.
Lennon attempted to lay the ball off, but saw it hit O’Shea and bounce back to his feet, and he raced in on goal to beat Mignolet despite Kilgallon’s best efforts to apprehend him.
Spurs should really have ended the game as contest on the hour when, with the Black Cats in disarray, Bale, who was later booked for diving, sprinted from halfway before picking out Defoe in front of goal.
The England striker had time to control before shooting, but as the entire stadium waited for the net to bulge, Mignolet pulled off a breathtaking save he had no right to make to keep his side’s hopes alive.
Sunderland poured forward in the search for an equaliser, in the process leaving themselves vulnerable at the back, but neither side could increase their tally with Mignolet keeping out Adebayor eight minutes from time, and that proved more than satisfactory for the visitors.
Frank Lampard’s days at Chelsea are reportedly numbered, but if that is the case he seems determined to go out in a blaze of glory.
Restored to the starting line-up, the England midfielder scored twice to inspire his side to recover from Steven Pienaar’s second-minute strike and secure a fourth successive league victory.
The win ensured Chelsea head into 2013 in third place in the table, just four points behind second-placed Manchester City with a match in hand.
But the main focus of debate will be about the 34-year-old Lampard, who is eligible to sign a pre-contract agreement to join a foreign club in the summer on January 1.
If he wanted to make a viable case for a new contract when his deal expires in June he is going the right way about it, although the noises from Stamford Bridge suggest there is little or no inclination to do so.
Lampard is now just one goal short of Kerry Dixon, who is the club’s second all-time leading scorer with 193.
But it had looked like being a long afternoon on Merseyside for the visitors after Everton got off to a dream start with just 64 seconds gone.
Phil Jagielka, playing at right-back in recent weeks because of injuries, swung over a cross which Victor Anichebe headed against the far post and Pienaar was quickest to react to the loose ball to drill it past Petr Cech.
That strike ensured Everton recorded their best Premier League goalscoring return in a calendar year, beating the previous best of 64 in 1996.
The same post denied Nikica Jelavic a second from a free-kick, but this time the rebound was not so kind to the Toffees and Chelsea were able to clear.
However, the home side, emboldened by a home record which has not seen them been beaten in the league since late March, continued to press forward with Leon Osman bringing a good low save out of Cech.
By the midway point of the half Chelsea had begun to find a foothold in the game with Ramires and Juan Mata starting to have more influence.
The former produced a driving 50-yard run and shot which was blocked by John Heitinga and Mata’s follow-up caught just enough of the Holland defender to take off sufficient pace to allow Howard to block with his legs.
Full-back Ashley Cole was then inches away from sliding in the equaliser from Cesar Azpilicueta’s cross but the goal they threatened finally arrived three minutes before the interval.
Lampard, given far too much space, planted a header from Ramires’ cross inside the near post to wrongfoot Howard.
Chelsea lost Cech to injury at the interval, giving Ross Turnbull his first league appearance of the season, as the second half started openly but scrappily.
Torres, so often the scourge of Everton in a red shirt, had been relatively subdued but started to get a few more openings and midway through the half brought a good save out of Howard with a shot on the turn.
Osman then did the same to Turnbull at the other end after side-stepping a couple of half-hearted tackles, before Jelavic’s flicked header from Leighton Baines’ cross beat the goalkeeper but not the crossbar – the 17th time this season they have hit the woodwork.
With 18 minutes remaining Everton were carved open by another driving Ramires run and Howard was desperately unlucky that when he brilliantly denied Mata, the ball fell to Lampard six yards out who could not miss an open goal.
Jelavic had a chance to snatch a draw deep into in added time but could not get enough power on his close-range effort and Turnbull gathered gratefully.
QPR’s survival hopes were dealt a major blow as Luis Suarez inspired Liverpool to a comprehensive 3-0 victory despite the absence of manager Brendan Rodgers.
It was a dreadful end to a roller coaster 2012 for the west Londoners in which there have been plenty more troughs than peaks.
Liverpool dominated from the outset and coasted to victory even without Rodgers, who was unwell and too sick to be on the touchline.
Assistant manager Colin Pascoe and coach Mike Marsh deputised at Loftus Road, which witnessed two Suarez goals inside the opening 16 minutes.
Daniel Agger nodded the visitors further ahead in the 28th minute and, despite an improved second-half performance from the hosts, Liverpool were never in any real danger of losing grip of proceedings.
The defeat leaves QPR bottom and eight points adrift of safety heading into a tough January, which starts with a trip to rivals Chelsea.
Harry Redknapp’s side had an important day given their current predicament, with fans calling for the spirit shown when Liverpool last visited back in March.
QPR came back from behind to secure a 3-2 win that day, with the result proving a catalyst in their successful battle against the drop.
The west Londoners needed a similar result today but started poorly, with returning goalkeeper Julio Cesar tested inside three minutes.
Suarez jinked past Clint Hill and unleashed a fierce strike that the Brazilian, recalled in place of Robert Green, could only parry.
Cesar may have wished he had stayed on the bench given the pressure he was under from the outset, with Suarez netting his first of the afternoon in the 10th minute.
The Uruguayan collected a pass from Jordan Henderson and ghosted past Hill with worrying ease, before striking low past the goalkeeper.
It was the 14th time this season that QPR had conceded the opening goal and in the 16th minute Liverpool doubled their advantage.
Suarez was again both scorer and creator, bursting along the byline from the right to produce a cross that Nedum Onuoha could only block straight into the striker’s path, allowing him to net again.
Adel Taarabt and Djibril Cisse tried and failed with audacious efforts in a bid to reduce the deficit, although it was Liverpool still in the ascendancy.
Ryan Nelsen did superbly to stop Suarez connecting with a low Glen Johnson cross, before an unmarked Steven Gerrard tested Cesar from the resulting corner.
Liverpool did not have to wait long for their third goal, as Gerrard collected a short corner and sent in a right-wing cross for Agger to nod home.
Taarabt called Jose Reina into action for the first time shortly afterwards, although most of the action was still at the other end.
Jordan Henderson was inches away from Liverpool’s fourth with a drilled 20-yard strike, before a Gerrard effort was cleared off the line by a combination of Armand Traore and Nelsen.
Taarabt struck a number of shots from distance as he tried to single-handedly claw QPR back, but the home team’s efforts were met by boos at the half-time whistle.
The Hoops emerged for the second half with Shaun Derry on in place of Cisse as Redknapp switched to a 3-5-2 formation.
The move to make the home side sturdier worked for the most part, but the Reds were still creating chances.
Suarez saw a goalbound effort superbly tipped over by Cesar, before Gerrard and Henderson threatened.
QPR proved more of a threat in the second half and, after Traore flashed a cross-shot across goal, Stephane Mbia had two strikes from distances.
Jose Enrique limped off and was replaced by Suso as the game entered the final 20 minutes in which Liverpool shut up shop.
Mbia saw two further strikes as QPR searched for a consolation that never came as the 3,288 visiting supporters went home happy. Their QPR counterparts, though, were left to wonder where they go next.
St Mirren capitalised on desperate defending by Dundee United to win 4-3 and move to within a point of their hosts in the Scottish Premier League.
After putting Saints ahead, Paul Dummett hauled down Jon Daly for a 43rd-minute penalty the striker converted before Stuart Armstrong’s long-range effort gave United a deserved half-time lead at Tannadice.
Errors littered the hosts’ game, though, and ex-United striker Steven Thompson equalised with his fourth goal in three games before Brian McLean was sent-off.
Marc McAusland put the Buddies in front after 65 minutes and a rare David van Zanten goal after 78 minutes completed victory for the visitors, rendering Barry Douglas’ 90th-minute free-kick mere consolation.
A second away win of the season took the Buddies to 24 points, one behind United, who remained eighth after their winless run was extended to four matches, during which they have conceded 11 goals.
United were seeking a first win since the Dundee derby and started well.
Gavin Gunning twice went close with headers from corners by Willo Flood, while Johnny Russell also twice threatened.
Daly had an effort ruled out for offside for United, who looked vulnerable at the back with Sean Dillon absent for a sixth successive game with a thigh problem.
The defence was torn apart when Jon Robertson’s cross-field ball found Gary Teale, who had earlier seen a free-kick saved by Radoslaw Cierzniak.
Teale skipped past Douglas and delivered a low cross which, through a forest of United defenders, left-back Dummett tucked in.
It was his second Buddies goal as his initial loan deal from Newcastle nears its end.
From the restart Russell shot wide across goal, then Craig Samson saved a curling Douglas free-kick before Flood departed, replaced after 26 minutes by Michael Gardyne after being on the receiving end of a couple of meaty tackles.
Four times United failed to test Samson again before Radoslaw Cierzniak gathered the ball cleanly at the feet of Lewis Guy.
Daly went down after a wayward arm struck him in the face at a corner, but when the ball was sent in again by Douglas, Dummett hauled him over and referee Euan Norris pointed to the spot. Dummett was booked and Daly tucked in the penalty.
United were soon in front as an opportunistic 35-yard effort from Armstrong skipped off the muddy surface in front of goal and beat Samson.
Their advantage evaporated five minutes into the second half as a poor Keith Watson pass was intercepted by Guy and Thompson placed the ball beneath Cierzniak.
Gardyne had an effort saved by Samson before the visitors struck again from a Teale free-kick, again benefiting from poor defending.
The ball dropped amid a throng of tangerine jerseys and McAusland slammed it into the roof of the net.
The hosts missed the chance to level as Gunning threaded a ball through for Gardyne, who only had the goalkeeper to beat, but blasted over.
United’s woes increased as McLean was shown a straight red card for a reckless tackle on John McGinn before, 12 minutes from time, Teale passed towards Van Zanten who sent in a low cross.
Neither a United defender nor a Buddies attacker met the ball as it drifted across goal into the bottom corner.
The right-back’s celebration, hitching up his shorts, was a reference to a charity bet which means he will no longer have to don a Borat-style mankini and sing Madonna’s `Like a Virgin’ in front of fans at the end of his third season in Paisley after his first goal.
There was a nervous conclusion for Saints as United won a free-kick on the edge of the box and Douglas nonchalantly curled it in in the final minute of normal time.
Three minutes of stoppage time ensued, but the hosts failed to test Samson again as the Buddies triumphed.
Mikel Arteta struck twice from the penalty spot – the first after a dive by Santi Cazorla – as Arsenal returned to winning ways with a victory over West Brom at Emirates Stadium.
The Gunners had started brightly but took the lead through controversial fashion, after Cazorla flung himself to the floor following a challenge by Steven Reid when replays showed there was no contact.
The Baggies, who lost twice last week to halt their fine start to the season, never really recovered from the sense of injustice and there was no way back once Arteta converted from the penalty spot again on 64 minutes after Chris Brunt had tripped Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.
It was a lively start by the home side, who had not won in four games, but recalled most of their first-team regulars missing from the midweek Champions League defeat at Olympiacos, although forward Theo Walcott was sidelined by a calf injury.
A high pass into the West Brom penalty area was palmed away by Boaz Myhill, but Gervinho missed his kick and could only hack the ball wide from six yards.
West Brom were forced into an early change when defender Liam Ridgewell hobbled off, replaced by Goran Popov.
On 17 minutes, Oxlade-Chamberlain darted to the goalline on the right and looped the ball back across goal. Cazorla arrived at pace, but could not keep his left-foot volley down and fired the ball high into the Clock End.
West Brom were dangerous on the counter and almost snatched the lead when captain Chris Brunt curled a 20-yard effort just wide of the top right corner.
Arsenal were awarded a penalty on 24 minutes. Cazorla cut into the left side of the area, and as he turned back inside Steven Reid, went to ground as the defender stuck out his leg.
Referee Mike Jones immediately pointed to the spot, although television replays showed there looked little contact, if any at all. Arteta stepped up to drill the ball past Myhill.
There was more than a sense of injustice from the visitors, who soon went in search of swift recompense.
However, Arsenal soaked up the pressure and then resumed their counter attacks.
Gervinho ghosted down the left and pulled the ball back across the face of goal, but Jack Wilshere’s sliding touch stabbed it just wide.
West Brom felt they had a penalty shout when Per Mertesacker handled a high ball in the Arsenal box, but the assistant on the far side flagged for a foul on the big German defender by Jonas Olsson.
At the other end, Myhill pushed a low shot from Gervinho around the post before Oxlade-Chamberlain sent an acrobatic scissors kick over the crossbar.
West Brom started the second half with some purpose, yet not really stretching the Arsenal defence.
The Gunners went forwards quickly on the counter, with Oxlade-Chamberlain floating a ball across the face of goal before Olivier Giroud and Olsson squared up on the edge of the penalty area, with the referee soon restoring calm after showing both players a yellow card.
Gervinho was off target again when he glanced a free header wide on the penalty spot.
The Ivory Coast forward was enduring one of those afternoons when moments later he failed to connect with Giroud’s knockdown into the six-yard box.
On 64 minutes, Arsenal were awarded another penalty. This time there was no controversy as Brunt chopped down Oxlade-Chamberlain after the England midfielder had charged down the right.
Arteta took it again and with the same outcome as the Spaniard blasted the spot-kick down the middle.
With a two-goal cushion, Arsenal had some breathing space and started to produce the slick, passing football which had been so lacking in recent performances.
With 13 minutes left, Wenger sent on defensive midfielder Francis Coquelin for Oxlade-Chamberlain.
Arteta tried for a hat-trick when he whipped a 22-yard free-kick around the wall, but also just past the left-hand post.
West Brom substitute Markus Rosenberg tested Arsenal keeper Wojciech Szczesny with a low shot from 20 yards.
German international Lukas Podolski came off the bench to somehow lift the ball over from six yards as Arsenal closed out what was in the end a comfortable victory to edge back up towards the top four.
Stoke defender Ryan Shotton was controversially sent off in stoppage time in an instantly forgettable Barclays Premier League goalless draw at Aston Villa.
Shotton was given his marching orders by referee Roger East for a second bookable offence but replays showed he made no contact on Villa substitute Fabian Delph.
Villa striker Darren Bent made his return to action as the home side’s youngsters stood up to the physical challenge presented by Stoke.
Bent made his first appearance for nearly six weeks midway through the second period but was unable to inspire Villa to gain the three points.
Paul Lambert’s side were well worthy of a share of the spoils, though, as they extended their unbeaten run to four games and edged further away from the relegation zone.
Villa’s ‘tiny tots’ looked ready-made for Stoke to impose their physical presence on them but they passed the challenge with flying colours.
The back three of Chris Herd, Ciaran Clark and Nathan Baker coped admirably with the threat of Kenwyne Jones and former Villa striker Peter Crouch.
Stoke will also take heart from extending their unbeaten run to six games, from which they have collected 14 points, and they have now registered eight clean sheets this season.
Villa began brightly and Gabriel Agbonlahor picked out the run of top scorer Christian Benteke into the Stoke box but Shotton was alert to the situation and tidied up.
The hosts forced three early corners, although Stoke dealt comfortably enough with Barry Bannan’s crosses into the danger area.
But the Potters were indebted to a crucial block from skipper Ryan Shawcross to keep out Benteke’s close-range volley after Clark had headed the ball back across goal.
Matthew Lowton then had the confidence to cut inside and create space for himself but his left-footed drive did not extend Stoke goalkeeper Asmir Begovic.
Bannan then curled a free-kick over the bar after Benteke had been brought down by Geoff Cameron 20 yards out.
Villa knocked the ball around in confident style, with Stoke content to soak up the pressure and try to hit the home side on the counter-attack.
Stoke midfielder Steven N’Zonzi appeared to flick a hand in the face of Villa centre-back Baker in the build-up to a Potters corner but both players were spoken to by referee Roger East.
Villa were looking the more likely to break the deadlock. Robert Huth cut out a low Eric Lichaj cross aimed at Benteke, who had another effort blocked from Brett Holman’s low ball.
Stoke were incensed by a centre-circle challenge on Glenn Whelan by Clark in first-half stoppage time but it escaped any punishment.
Villa started the second half brightly and Begovic went down to his left to cling onto Benteke’s volley after Lowton had flicked on a Bannan cross.
Tempers were becoming frayed and Villa keeper Brad Guzan squared up to Jones after being barged into when collecting a cross.
Benteke continued to ask questions of Stoke and some trickery inside the area created half a chance but Huth reacted quickly to block his shot on the turn.
Lambert brought on Bent and Stephen Ireland for Agbonlahor and Holman midway through the second half while Stoke replaced Matthew Etherington and Jones with Cameron Jerome and Crouch.
Shotton became the first player to be yellow-carded after 75 minutes after fouling Ireland.
Then came his stoppage-time red card, although there was no time left for Villa to cash in on their numerical advantage.
Southampton moved out of the Premier League relegation zone for the first time this season after Jason Puncheon’s second-half strike proved the difference against fellow strugglers Reading.
The Royals pipped Saints to the Championship crown last term, and the hosts exacted some revenge this afternoon.
The south-coast club started brightly at St Mary’s, but Reading looked dangerous on the break and had strong penalty appeals waved away when Jay Tabb appeared to be clipped in the box.
Southampton felt aggrieved themselves moments later when a Puncheon header was chalked off, before they lost influential captain Adam Lallana to a knee injury.
Hal Robson-Kanu rattled the post in first-half stoppage time but Saints continued to threaten after the break, getting their just rewards in the 61st minute when Puncheon lashed home what proved to be the winner.
The main talking point coming into the match was goalkeeper Kelvin Davis’ return, having not started in the Premier League since the 6-1 mauling at Arsenal in mid-September.
The club captain replaced the injured Paulo Gazzaniga, while Gaston Ramirez dropped to the bench having spent the week in Uruguay on compassionate grounds.
Jay Rodriguez replaced him in the starting line-up and started brightly, firing just wide before Morgan Schneiderlin bundled a fierce Nathaniel Clyne cross inches wide.
Reading goalkeeper Adam Federici had to keep out a goal-bound Lallana prod and then stopped Lambert after Rodriguez was blocked off by Shaun Cummings.
Lallana curled over from the edge of the box but, for all of Saints’ attacking intent, Reading looked menacing on the counter-attack.
Tabb’s burst forward and strike that stung the palms of Davis epitomised that and the Royals felt they should have had a penalty when Jack Cork then caught the midfielder.
Saints soon felt hard done by themselves as Puncheon had a 34th-minute opener disallowed after an altercation between Federici and Maya Yoshida in the build-up.
Southampton boss Nigel Adkins was forced to shuffle the pack as half-time approached after captain Lallana suffered a knee injury, resulting in an early-than-planned introduction for Ramirez.
Puncheon had a shot deflected behind and Yoshida saw a header cleared off the line by Cummings as Saints pushed for a half-time lead, although Robson-Kanu saw a header rebound back off the post in stoppage time at the other end.
Reading were on top as the second half resumed but Saints soon found their feet, with Puncheon forcing Federici into action low to his left six minutes in.
Rodriguez’s chest and volley rolled wide as Saints continued to press and, after Sean Morrison and Yoshida both received treatment, they had the lead.
Lambert played through Clyne and his ball was controlled by Puncheon, who continued to fire a right-footed strike across Federici into the far corner.
Rodriguez saw penalty appeals rejected moments after the 61st-minute goal, although a poor Clyne clearance would have cost Southampton immediately had Jobi McAnuff’s shot been lower.
Morrison was replaced by Alex Pearce in the 65th minute after his earlier knock and Noel Hunt soon came on for Tabb as Reading boss Brian McDermott looked to claw a goal back.
The move to a three-pronged attack almost paid dividends immediately as Adam Le Fondre nodded just wide after a poor headed clearance by Clyne.
Federici almost sliced a backpass into his own goal and then did well to did well to hold onto a Clyne cross-shot.
Guly do Prado was booed by sections of the home fans when replacing Rodriguez 12 minutes from time, although he soon hushed those naysayers with a long-range effort that curled just over after Puncheon again came close.
Reading threatened from late set-pieces and Do Prado was denied from close range, but it remained 1-0 as Saints collected their second clean sheet of the season.
Fernando Torres handed Rafael Benitez a first Premier League victory as Chelsea manager as he ended his personal drought in style at Sunderland.
The Spaniard capped a powerful start for the Blues by firing them into an 11th-minute lead – scoring his first league goal since October 6 – and he made it 2-0 in first-half stoppage time by converting a penalty awarded for Sebastian Larsson’s trip on Ramires.
Only the woodwork prevented him from completing a hat-trick inside 49 minutes, but Juan Mata rifled in the loose ball to end the game as a contest.
Sunderland responded and England international Adam Johnson embarrassed keeper Petr Cech with a 66th-minute shot he really should have repelled, with Craig Gardner hitting the bar at the death.
However, as a crowd of 39,273 left the Stadium of Light, it was those heading south who were wearing the smiles, leaving those closer to home to contemplate a run which now extends to just two Premier League victories in 23 attempts.
Chelsea will now turn their attention to Japan and the FIFA Club World Cup, while Black Cats boss Martin O’Neill will attempt to take the positives from another difficult afternoon as he attempts to quell a growing tide of pessimism on Wearside.
In truth, the visitors could have had the game won inside the opening 11 minutes as they hit Sunderland with a whirlwind to spark mass panic.
Referee Mark Halsey proved a central character and had he seen what television replays later revealed, he might have endeared himself even less to the locals.
There were just two minutes on the clock when Eden Hazard ran on to Mata’s stunning pass but just as he prepared to shoot, he had his arm tugged by the covering Larsson.
It was enough to throw the striker off balance and keeper Simon Mignolet took advantage to smother the ball with Halsey allowing play to continue and sparing Larsson an inevitable red card, much to the annoyance of the Belgian.
Hazard returned the favour two minutes later to allow Mata to fire across the six-yard box, where Torres only just failed to connect, and Mignolet had to be at his best to deny the Spain international with six minutes gone when skipper John O’Shea headed a clearance straight at team-mate Carlos Cuellar and saw the ball ricochet straight to the striker.
But having ridden their luck during the early stages, the Black Cats finally succumbed with 11 minutes played when, after Cuellar had rashly attempted to nick the ball ahead of Torres on the halfway line and failed, the visitors broke at pace.
Victor Moses raced away before picking out Hazard wide on the left, and when he crossed to the near post, Torres arrived right on cue to turn it into the net.
Defender David Luiz sent a long-range 16th-minute free-kick just over the bar, but as Chelsea relaxed, Sunderland re-grouped and started to force their way back into the game.
Cuellar saw a 23rd-minute shot blocked after the Blues had failed to deal properly with Larsson’s corner, and Cech was called upon for the first time five minutes later to beat away Stephane Sessegnon’s well-struck effort after Connor Wickham, deputising for the injured Steven Fletcher, had held off Luiz to flick on.
With Gardner and Johnson starting to make an impression, the Blues were forced on to the back foot at times and although they tried to hit their hosts on the counter, O’Neill’s men were starting to dominate.
However, disaster struck deep into injury time when Sweden international Larsson decided not to shepherd Brazilian into touch, instead needlessly going to ground and taking the Chelsea man with him.
Halsey pointed straight to the spot, guaranteeing himself a chorus of boos at the break, and Torres obliged from 12 yards.
Any hopes of a fightback were dashed within four minutes of the restart when Phil Bardsley miscontrolled a cross and the ball ran to Torres, who was denied a hat-trick by the crossbar.
Sadly for Sunderland, the rebound dropped invitingly for Mata to make it 3-0 and wrap up the victory with 41 minutes still to play.
It could have been four three minutes later when Mata rolled the ball into the path of Moses, who drilled a right-foot effort wide of the far post.
Chelsea eased into cruise control with the points in the bag, although Johnson gave Sunderland hope with a rasping 66th-minute strike which keeper Cech appeared to leave, only to see it scream inside the far post.
Cech was much more accomplished in dealing with Johnson’s goal-bound free-kick 10 minutes later and had to dive full-length to turn away Wickham’s injury-time effort, but he needed the help off the crossbar to keep out Gardner’s free-kick at the death.
Norwich held off Swansea’s second-half fightback to extend their unbeaten run to ten games with a thrilling win at the Liberty Stadium.
The Canaries had stunned their high-flying hosts with goals from Steven Whittaker, Sebastien Bassong and Grant Holt giving them a 3-0 half-time lead.
Swansea rallied through strikes from Michu and Jonathan De Guzman, but Robert Snodgrass made sure of the win with an excellent free-kick, before Michu netted again in injury time.
Both sides’ excellent recent form suggested a tight encounter, but Norwich blew those predictions out of the water with a superb first-half display to punish the sluggish Swans, who were without the injured Leon Britton.
The combination of a tigerish midfield effort from the likes of Snodgrass, Jonny Howson and Wes Hoolahan, and the same trio’s neat link work in attack, proved too much for their hosts to contend with.
There were warning signs inside the opening seconds as Bradley Johnson met Snodgrass’ corner to force a save from Gerhard Tremmel.
The pressure built as Swansea were hassled and harried out of their rhythm and Howson rattled the base of the post after seizing on Ben Davies’ weak defensive header.
The Canaries took a deserved lead in the 16th minute. Snodgrass laid the ball off to Whittaker, and the ex-Rangers man was allowed to run and run before cutting in and firing low past Tremmel for his first Norwich goal.
Snodgrass forced another save from Tremmel as he cut in from the right flank, before Swansea briefly rediscovered some of the zip that had seen them rise as high as seventh in the table.
Their first genuine goalscoring chance came after 28 minutes. Danny Graham did well to connect with De Guzman’s flicked cross, only to see his header come back off the bar.
Michu almost lucked into an equaliser five minutes later, the Spaniard’s drive took a huge deflection off Wayne Routledge to leave Mark Bunn stranded, but the ball spun just wide of his right-hand post.
Swansea had been building momentum, but they were stopped in their tracks as Bassong struck for the third time in four games.
Holt hoisted a cross to the far post, where the defender rose above Davies to beat Tremmel at the German’s near post.
Just two minutes later it was 3-0. Snodgrass’ perfectly delivered free-kick picked out an unmarked Holt, who easily steered his header beyond Tremmel to cap a superb first half for the Canaries.
Johnson almost made it 4-0 just two minutes after the break.
Angel Rangel gifted the ball to the visitors on the edge of his own box and Howson’s delightful lobbed pass picked out his midfield partner who manufactured an outside of the foot volley which struck the bar.
Michu gave Swansea a route back into the game as he slotted into the far corner from Davies’ low ball across the box in the 51st minute.
The Spaniard almost turned provider for Graham, and Bunn had to make a sharp save to deny the striker with Norwich starting to show signs of nerves and the game bearing little resemblance to the opening 45 minutes.
Those nerves only increased as Swansea got back within a goal on 59 minutes. Nathan Dyer outpaced Javier Garrido down the flank, and when his cross was not cleared De Guzman volleyed in.
Graham could have levelled eight minutes later but Garrido did superbly to intervene as the striker ran in on goal.
His replacement Itay Shechter had the ball in the net soon after as Bunn failed to hold the ball under pressure from Michu, but referee Howard Webb ruled the Spaniard had fouled the keeper.
Michu then headed wide as he made a trademark late arrival into the box, before Norwich doused Swansea’s fire with their fourth of the afternoon.
Ashley Williams was adjudged to have hauled down Holt, but was only booked by Webb despite clearly being the last man.
Snodgrass stepped up to curl home a beautiful strike from the resulting free-kick and secure the points for Norwich, meaning Michu’s second in injury time was not enough for Swansea.