Two own goals by Stoke City forward Jonathan Walters set Chelsea on its way to a 4-0 Premier League victory Saturday that gave under-fire interim manager Rafael Benitez some respite and lifted his side to third place.
Walters had a nightmare afternoon at the Britannia Stadium, putting through his own net with a diving header on the stroke of halftime, then beating Stoke goalkeeper Asmir Begovic again with a header from a corner just past the hour. He also missed a late penalty.
Stoke has not beaten Chelsea in the league since 1975 and Frank Lampard's penalty and a fine Eden Hazard goal put the Londoners one point ahead of fourth-placed Tottenham Hotspur, who drew 0-0 at Queens Park Rangers in the lunchtime kickoff.
QPR props up the standings after Reading staged a remarkable comeback to beat West Bromwich Albion 3-2, scoring three times in the last eight minutes after trailing to Romelu Lukaku's double.
Aston Villa dropped into the bottom three following Southampton striker Rickie Lambert's contentious first-half penalty that secured its fellow strugglers a 1-0 victory at Villa Park.
Leaders Manchester United hosts fierce rivals Liverpool Saturday, before second-placed Manchester City, seven points behind Alex Ferguson's side, completes the weekend program at Arsenal.
Chelsea moved within four points of City, and 11 behind United, after getting a helping hand, or head, at Stoke - normally ferocious opponents on home turf. The victory should bring some relief to Benitez amid growing discontent among Chelsea fans, still seething at the Spaniard's appointment and his team's inconsistent performances.
In its previous two games Chelsea suffered a shock home league defeat by QPR, followed by a midweek loss to Swansea City in the first leg of the Capital One (League ) Cup semifinal at Stamford Bridge.
Chelsea also got a boost Saturday with the return to first-team action of captain John Terry after two months out with a knee injury. Terry replaced Juan Mata after 79 minutes, although he did concede the late penalty which the hapless Walters struck against the top of the bar.
Reading gave its fans hope that it can stay up with an unlikely win over West Brom. at the Madjeski Stadium. Until the 82nd minute Reading had been run ragged by on-loan striker Lukaku, but Jimmy Kebe started a memorable comeback. Adam Le Fondre then equalized from the penalty spot with two minutes to go, before Pavel Pogrebnyak pounced in the last minute.
"We were really resilient. We have got great character," Reading manager Brian McDermott told Sky Sports.
The main talking point at Villa Park surrounded Lambert's 34th minute penalty that earned Southampton three points. Enda Stevens was penalized for bringing down Jay Rodriguez, with both managers agreeing the decision was harsh.
"Enda Stevens was not even close to him, and that is the most hurtful thing. I think referee Mark Halsey will be embarrassed by that," said Villa boss Paul Lambert.
His opposite number Nigel Adkins concured: "For me there is no contact with the player, but the referee has a decision to make. All we can do is make sure the players are not diving. We expect the players to behave properly. It is not a dive from Jay Rodriguez. There was no contact, but if the player had not moved his leg away there would have been contact."
Goalscorer Lambert took a different view. He said it was a "stonewall" spot-kick.
QPR manager Harry Redknapp had to be content with a point in his first game against his former club, Tottenham Hotspur. Redknapp, sacked by Spurs in June, hailed a "fantastic" performance from his side as QPR stifled its opponent for long periods.
In other matches, fifth-placed Everton and Swansea battled to a goalless draw at Goodison Park, as did Norwich City and Newcastle United at Carrow Road. Sunderland thumped West Ham United 3-0 at the Stadium of Light.
Fulham drew 1-1 at home to Wigan with Franco Di Santo's equalizer lifting the visitors out of the relegation places, ahead of Aston Villa on goal difference.