Aston Villa were looking dangerous on the counter-attack, however. When Christian Benteke initially burst forward to attack the exposed Chelsea backline, there initially appeared to be only a limited danger, but Gary Cahill's non-defending, taking the decision to stand off until the last, proved fatal as the Belgian surged past him and wrong-footed Petr Cech by sliding a finish past the goalkeeper at his near post.
That gave Aston Villa a lift, and they went close again soon afterwards when Fabian Delph dribbled past two players in midfield before fizzing in a left-footed shot which swerved just wide of the top corner. Yet in a game that was becoming increasingly end-to-end, Chelsea weren't to be denied from finding a path through themselves, Juan Mata being typically creative to find Demba Ba's run into the box, but the striker was denied by the quick-thinking Brad Guzan, who darted out to save at his feet.
Chelsea later had another opportunity from a free-kick close to goal after some sloppy Villa defending saw Eden Hazard chopped down. Frank Lampard, in search of the all-time top scorer record for Chelsea, stepped up to take it, but it was tipped onto the post after another good save from Guzan, who also stopped the follow-up.
Yet things then turned worse for the Blues. John Terry was fortunate that his foul on Yacouba Sylla as he burst clear was judged not to be a denial of a goalscoring opportunity and therefore only deserving of a booking, before Ramires also picked up a yellow card for a high boot on Benteke - unfortunately for the Brazilian, it was his second of the day, and Chelsea faced the prospect of playing the rest of the game with ten men.
After some half-time reshuffling, David Luiz replaced Victor Moses for the Blues, moving into midfield. Aston Villa started on the front foot, but were rather sloppy in possession and so wasted the possession they had - and they were soon made to regret it after their man advantage was wiped out by a red card for Christian Benteke, after the striker also went in with a high boot on John Terry.
That gave Chelsea a renewed sense of belief, and it didn't take them long to find the equaliser. It came courtesy of Frank Lampard, the midfielder becoming the joint all-time scorer for his club after a trademark effort from the edge of the area after some good work from Eden Hazard.
Chelsea almost found their second through Gary Cahill, after he chested down the ball before firing in a fine effort, but it was somehow cleared by way of a scramble thanks to the combined efforts of Sylla and Ashley Westwood. The visitors insisted the ball had crossed the line, although replays showed that the officials seemed to get the decision right.
There was soon another setback for the Blues after John Terry was taken off with a rather severe-looking injury to his knee after colliding badly with Nathan Baker, but the visitors weren't to have their heads down for long. Juan Mata and David Luiz both tested Guzan's reflexes with free-kicks in the following minutes as Villa came under siege, but the American proved to be up to the task on both occasions.
A rare Villa attack then saw Westwood force a good save from Petr Cech, before Chelsea finally got the killer goal, and there were no prizes for guessing the goalscorer. It was fine work from Hazard again, bursting down the left to square the ball for Lampard, who couldn't miss from just a few yard out. His 203rd goal for the club, making him the all-time top goalscorer, and giving Chelsea a vital three points in the process.