SUNDERLAND PUT in a resolute performance at Stamford Bridge but were un-done early on by a slice of luck for the hosts.
Frank Lampard was the man on hand to take advantage of a perfect re-bound which saw the ball land square at his feet from a yard out to secure a priceless Chelsea win and condemn Martin O`Neill to just his second defeat as Sunderland manager.
O`Neill brought Nicklas Bendtner in for Craig Gardner with the big Dane taking Kieran Richardson`s place up front; Richardson moved back to left back and Phil Bardsley across to right-back.
Andre Villas-Boas started with Fernando Torres up front supported by Juan Mata and Lampard.
Sunderland fell behind in the most unfortunate manner in the 13th minute. The Black Cats were lucky to see Torres` scissor kick crack the crossbar but were equally unlucky to see the ball fall to Lampard who nudged the ball home from close-range.
Torres had also gone close a few minutes before when he saw a far-post header drop narrowly wide of the back stick.
Mata went close just before the half hour mark when he flashed a 20 yard free-kick into the palms of the diving Simon Mignolet.
Torres saw yet another opportunity fail to yield a goal after 30 minutes when his looping header from a Ramires cross was nodded away from the far post by Bardsley.
The Black Cats had their best chance of the half when Stephane Sessegnon and Bendtner combined before the Benin international released the striker to slip a deft effort an inch wide of Petr Cech`s far-post on the turn.
Torres squandered another chance seven minutes before the break, collecting a pass before turning a right-footed effort wide of the right-hand post from just outside the penalty area.
Seconds before half-time, Matt Kilgallon`s luck ran out with an injury which saw him stretchered off to be replaced by Michael Turner, himself only just back from injury.
Sessegnon stung Cech`s just a couple of minutes after the break when he cracked a half-volley off the outside of his right foot.
Unsurprisingly Torres had Chelsea`s first noteworthy chance of the second period when he drove a low shot towards Mignolet`s near-post for the Belgian to push away.
Bendtner saw a strong penalty claimed turned down by referee Phil Dowd just before the hour. The Danish international was clattered by Ashley Cole when contesting a header just seconds after Chelsea saw their own appeal turned down for a Turner tackle on Torres which looked to be on the edge if not outside the penalty area.
In the 63rd minute Sunderland should have levelled when Seb Larsson drove to the byline before delivering an inch-perfect low centre for James McClean who diverted the ball agonizingly wide of an empty net.
Sunderland were off the hook again in the 66th minute when Bardsley appeared to foul Torres, the Spaniard was booked however for simulation in the eyes of Dowd.
With just five minutes to go Mata forced an excellent save from Mignolet when he dug out a sublime chip which had the Belgian back-peddling before palming over.
Substitute Craig Gardner nearly made something of a McClean cross to the far-post but Cech was able to claim Gardner`s hook back across.
Gardner could have done better again with less than a minute left on the clock, scuffing a cross from Sessegnon wide of the near-post from less than six yards.
Sub Florent Malouda immediately stormed up the other end to test Mignolet with a powerful left-footed drive which the Black Cats` ‘keeper was equal to.
Chelsea: Cech; Bosingwa, Luiz, Terry (c), Cole; Romeu Meireles; Lampard (Essien), Ramires, Mata (Malouda); Torres.
Subs not used: Lukaku, Sturridge, Hutchinson, Bertrand, Turnbull (gk).
Sunderland: Mignolet; Bardsley, O’Shea, Kilgallon (Turner), Richardson (Wickham); Larsson, Cattermole (c), Vaughan (Gardner), McClean; Sessegnon; Bendtner.
Subs not used: Dong-won, Meyler, Elmohamady, Westwood (gk).
Referee: Mr P Dowd.