LONDON – Chelsea winger Willian netted a 90th minute winner to seal a slim victory over ten-man Everton which sees the Blues maintain their seven-point lead at the Premier League summit.
Jose Mourinhoâ€™s leaders found the stubborn Toffees, who had kept three consecutive clean sheets, difficult to break down throughout the clash, with goalkeeper Tim Howard keeping the Merseysiders in it with a number of wonderful saves.
Colombian star Juan Cuadrado impressed on his full debut, firing wide from the angle and seeing another shot blocked by what appeared to be the arm of Steven Naismith in the area, though appeals for a penalty were waved away.
Former Blue Romelu Lukaku had a one-on-one chance saved by Petr Cech as Everton threatened to take a first-half lead, but it was Chelsea who deserved the goal more, with more Howard heroics denying Maticâ€™s free-kick and another well struck shot from Willian.
The hosts then had their own shot-stopper to thank as Cech thwarted Lukaku with a stunning reaction save, flicking out a leg to turn away his tap in from all of four yards out.
Chelsea thought they had won it in the closing stages when Matic reeled away in celebration after his long-range effort was deflected in, though Stamford Bridge was silenced by the linesmanâ€™s flag.
Everton were under heavy pressure in the closing stages and their pursuit of a point took a blow when Gareth Barry was sent off for a second bookable offence, and Chelsea made the man advantage count as an unmarked Willian found the net in the final minute from outside the box to send the stadium into raptures.
Three points for the Blues means that Man City still have a job to do to catch their title rivals, despite claiming their first ever Premier League victory at Stoke, Sergio Aguero scoring twice in a 4-1 win.
Though the scoreline might suggest a whitewash, it was anything but for the defending champions who had kept a clean sheet in ten games.
They twice went close to conceding early on, with the offside flag sparing the blushes of Joe Hart after he spilled a shot enabling Peter Crouch to follow in, though his strike was disallowed.
Sergio Aguero finally opened the scoring on 33 minutes with an outstanding solo goal, running from the halfway line to power a low shot past Asmir Begovic, but Crouchâ€™s diving header had the Potters level just five minutes later.
Aguero then had a goal disallowed before the break, the Argentine penalised for handball, but it mattered little as Manuel Pellegriniâ€™s men overpowered the Potters after the re-start, Mr Consistent James Milner nodding the Blues back in front before an Aguero penalty and a late Samir Nasri strike claimed a vital three points.
Man United also won to consolidate their place in third, defender Chris Smalling the unlikely hero with a brace in a 3-1 win over Burnley.
Smalling started on the bench but was called into action to replace the injured Phil Jones after just five minutes, and he opened the scoring just 22 seconds later with a header following a corner routine.
In-form frontman Danny Ings had the impressive Clarets level moments later with a superb header, but â€“ much to the disbelief of the United faithful â€“ a second headed goal from Smalling restored the Red Devilsâ€™ lead on the stroke of half-time, with Robin van Persieâ€™s 82nd minute penalty sealing maximum points for Louis van Gaalâ€™s side.
Elsewhere, Crystal Palace boss Alan Pardew claimed a point in his first meeting with former side Newcastle United, as Fraizer Campbell’s second-half strike cancelled out Papiss Cisse’s opener to seal a 1-1 draw at Selhurst Park.
Relegation threatened West Brom went four points clear of the bottom three with a 2-0 win over Swansea, as goals from Brown Ideye and Saido Berahino gave them a win at the Hawthorns.
And Southampton bump Arsenal out of the top four after they were held to a 0-0 draw with ten-man West Ham, who had goalkeeper Adrian sent off in the second-half for handling outside his area. – talkSPORT