Chelsea came from behind to sink Sunderland at the Stadium of Light thanks to a brace from Eden Hazard, but a surprisingly frantic finish meant it was anything but plain sailing for José Mourinho's men.
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Jozy Altidore gave Sunderland a shock lead before Frank Lampard and Eden Hazard struck back. John O'Shea equalized for the hosts, but Hazard scored a magnificent second to put Chelsea in the lead before a Phil Bardsley own-goal appeared to make the points save. But Bardsley then scored at the other end to set up a tense finale for both sides.
Chelsea had started the game well and looked the likeliest to score the opener, but disaster struck when Cesar Azpilicueta gave away a cheap free kick on the edge of the Blues' area. Andrea Dossena's free kick was blocked, but the ball was played to Jozy Altidore in the area, who held off the challenge of his marker to spin and blast a powerful shot past the hapless Petr Cech in goal.
Sunderland couldn't hold onto their lead for long, however -- just afterwards, Eden Hazard embarked upon a fine run down the left wing and dinked a cross into the area, where lapse marking allowed Frank Lampard to head home from close range and immediately get Chelsea back on level terms.
Sunderland didn't capitulate thereafter, however, and were diligent in their defending to keep Chelsea at bay. A period of relatively scrappy play followed, and Fernando Torres really should have scored when Juan Mata picked him out in the area, but the Spaniard blazed over from 12 yards out.
Fortunately for the Blues, the game was once again to be lit up by Eden Hazard, the Belgian showing more class to cut inside and fire a fine effort home to put Chelsea into the lead.
At that stage, for a José Mourinho team, there would seem to be only one winner. But after regrouping at halftime, Sunderland were in the mood to fight on, and it took them just five minutes of the second half to register an equalizer, John O'Shea firing home from an uncleared corner to put Chelsea's position back into question.
Torres was once again guilty of missing a glorious chance to cap off a fairly miserable afternoon, missing the opportunity to put Chelsea back into the lead when the excellent Hazard's shot was spilled right into his path, only for him to blast it into the ether.
Fortunately for Chelsea, Hazard wasn't done there -- the Belgian then started and finished a fine move, playing Frank Lampard down the right channel and collecting his fine backheel before stepping past a couple of Sunderland defenders and sending a brilliant shot arcing into the far top corner to put Chelsea into the lead one more time.
Sunderland looked beaten at that point, still managing to keep Chelsea at bay but looking increasingly unlikely to pull one back themselves. Yet they soon conceded a fourth which appeared to put them out of the game that was highly avoidable. The substitute Demba Ba broke clear down the right and put in a center to find no teammates waiting in the box, although Phil Bardsley did the job anyway, tapping home a silly own-goal with a terrible attempted clearance.
That seemed to be that for Sunderland, but incredibly they found a way back into the game immediately afterwards, Phil Bardsley atoning for his error by lashing home from another badly-cleared corner to make it 4-3 going into the final minutes.
Sunderland pressed for an equalizer, but the closest they came after putting the Blues under pressure was a ball cut back to Ki Seung-Yeung on the edge of the area, but the former Celtic man slipped as he teed up his shot, allowing the Blues to clear and Chelsea to claim all three points.
Sunderland: Mannone, Bardsley, Brown, O'Shea, Dossena, Ki, Giaccherini (Johnson 65'), Gardner, Colback, Borini, Altidore.
Goals: Altidore 14', O'Shea 50'
Chelsea: Cech, Ivanovic, Cahill, Terry, Azpilicueta, Ramires, Lampard, Willian, Mata, Hazard, Torres (Ba 64').
Goals: Lampard 17', Hazard 36', 62'