Football: With just five minutes left on the clock Andy Cole came to Chelsea's rescue, relieving the pressure at a tense Stamford Bridge and breaking Stoke City's stout resistance.
Just when it looked as though the Blues were heading for their third draw in as many matches the England left-back was on hand to dink his shot over Asmir Begovic and into the visitor's net.
The move was sparked by Frank Lampard who had been on the pitch less then five minutes and started on the bench alongside John Terry. The England midfielder spread the play out to Branislav Ivanovic on the right and his low pass was missed by Spaniard Juan Mata but fell nicely for Cole who did not hesitate.
With their main rivals — Manchester United, Arsenal and Manchester City — all in action tomorrow the victory allows Chelsea to extend their lead at the top. They had to work for it though, Stoke making a sizable contribution to an entertaining encounter.
Notably the Blues began the second half at a higher tempo than they had managed since the beginning of the first 45. Ivanovic had a good penalty claim turned down by referee Michael Oliver and Oscar, ever keen to be involved, had a low shot held by Begovic.
Eden Hazard, who had faded, was withdrawn after an hour, the Belgian replaced by Victor Moses. Stoke followed with a change of their own, bringing on Michael Owen for Charlie Adam.
Good interplay between Fernando Torres and John Obi Mikel, who had sprang forward from central midfield, left the Nigerian clear in the box, but his square ball was cut out by the packed Stoke defence.
Stoke then wasted no time, sweeping upfield in a move which allowed Matthew Etherington an effort which squirmed wide.
It took until the 80th minute for Lampard to enter the action, a positive change in the eyes of the Stamford Bridge faithful who were growing increasingly uneasy by Stoke's determination and their own side's wastefulness in the final third.
It was a pattern inherited from the first-half which saw the trio of Oscar, Hazard and Mata operating behind Torres.
The Spanish striker began his day with a strong run from his own 18-yard box and saw a header sail over the bar shortly thereafter.
However, as the minutes ticked by he cut an increasingly downcast figure, seeming to be reluctant to shoot when the opportunity presented itself.
Stoke, who set up in a 4-4-1-1 system with Peter Crouch at the apex, were happy enough soaking up Chelsea pressure. Still, Tony Pulis's side played themselves into the match arching long balls towards Crouch, with Adam in the hole.
Throughout the first 45 minutes the Potters were encouraged by their manager, who stood and rasped his orders from the sun at the touchline. His side grew in confidence and Jonathan Walters hit the bar with a header after 18 minutes. It was a miss Stoke would ultimately regret.
If you appreciated this article then please consider donating to the Morning Star's Fighting Fund to ensure we can keep developing your paper.