Didier Drogba's assured finish earned Chelsea a narrow victory over 10-man Stoke in Roberto di Matteo's first Premier League game in charge.
Stoke played most of the game with 10 men after Ricardo Fuller was shown a straight red card for a stamp on Branislav Ivanovic.
Chelsea hit the bar twice but had to be patient against a dogged Stoke side.
But Drogba eventually made the breakthrough, rounding Asmir Begovic to record his 100th Premier League goal.
Result was important - Di Matteo
The best club managers in world football have been linked with the Chelsea vacancy following
Andre Villas-Boas's sacking
and, while it is perhaps inevitable that the likes of Pep Guardiola and Jose Mourinho are coveted by Blues owner Roman Abramovich, Chelsea will first need to secure Champions League football under Di Matteo to attract the coaches they crave.
This win takes them level on 49 points with fourth-placed Arsenal, having played a game more.
The Italian gave the old guard a vote of confidence by including Frank Lampard, Salomon Kalou and Drogba in the starting line-up. Captain John Terry and Ashley Cole also returned to a Chelsea side with an average age of 28.5.
Jonathan PearceBBC Match of the Day commentator
Ricardo Fuller stamped on Ivanovic, and it had to be a red card. Juan Mata was a tactical change from Di Matteo, brought on halfway through the first half. Stoke made it difficult, but Chelsea hit the woodwork three times and it could have been more than 1-0.
Chelsea fired a couple of early warning signs with Ivanovic heading over Lampard's corner before Gary Cahill forced a diving save from Begovic after a purposeful run and shot from the edge of the box.
Stoke fashioned only one clear chance during a first half in which they were second best but, after Terry lost his footing and allowed Jonathan Walters a clear run at goal, Cahill got across to make a diving block.
Stoke, who have not won at Stamford Bridge in the league since a 1-0 victory in April 1974, made their task a lot harder when Fuller was shown a straight red card for an unnecessary stamp on Ivanovic, leaving referee Andre Marriner with no choice but to dismiss the striker.
Tony Pulis criticises Ricardo Fuller after red card
Chelsea were positive throughout and hit the woodwork twice before half-time, with Terry's header grazing the crossbar before Ivanovic pounced on a poor headed clearance by Robert Huth to hammer a shot against the bar.
Stoke were disciplined and determined throughout and, even after the introductions of Juan Mata and David Luiz, the Potters repelled wave after wave of Chelsea attack, with Begovic doing well to keep out Drogba's goalbound free-kick.
Terry fired a low shot a whisker wide moments later but Chelsea finally penetrated the Stoke defence - and it came courtesy of another Stamford Bridge stalwart.
Latching onto Mata's through-ball 12 yards out, Drogba kept his head to poke the ball around Begovic and stroke into the empty net, becoming the first African player to reach the milestone of 100 Premier League goals.
TOP AFRICAN SCORERS IN THE PREMIER LEAGUE
100 goals -
Stoke replied with a short period of pressure, but the best the visitors could muster was an effort from the halfway line by Andy Wilkinson that almost caught out Petr Cech and a speculative effort from Cameron Jerome, who could only thump a shot into the advertising hoardings despite being one-on-one with Cahill.
But Cahill and Terry, playing together for the first time for Chelsea, were commanding at the back and Stoke rarely threatened.
Mata could have made the win certain but his beautifully struck free-kick hit the post, before substitute Daniel Sturridge shot just wide after cutting in from the right.
Chelsea dominated the game and, while Abramovich was not at Stamford Bridge for the game, the Russian will be hoping Di Matteo can replicate Guus Hiddink's achievement in 2009 of steering the club towards a late-season flourish.
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