Ashley Cole was the unlikely hero as Chelsea scored a dramatic late winner to breach Stoke's resistance.
The England defender stole in with five minutes left to prod in Juan Mata's flick and keep Chelsea three points clear at the top of the Premier League.
Stoke threatened to cause an upset when Jonathan Walters headed onto Cech's crossbar before half-time.
John MotsonBBC Match of the Day commentator
If you asked me if this looks like a Chelsea side capable of winning the title I would have to say no. For all their possession and all their dominance, Stoke could have snatched the points here and arguably created the better chances. This remains very much a team in progress for Roberto Di Matteo.
Manager Tony Pulis threw Michael Owen on as he sensed victory, but it was Chelsea who snatched all three points.
With Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich watching from the stands after his unscheduled visit to the training ground on Thursday, the onus was on Roberto Di Matteo to win - and win well.
But against a side as disciplined and obdurate as Stoke that was never likely to be straightforward, despite their woeful record at Stamford Bridge.
The Potters last league victory there had come in April 1974, but with Di Matteo opting to leave captain John Terry and Frank Lampard on the sidelines this was not a familiar, forceful Chelsea of the recent past.
Rather than reinforce in the defensive midfield area after seeing Chelsea win the Champions League in May, Abramovich has invested in youth and attacking flair and almost all £80m of it was given its chance to shine against Stoke.
Chelsea 'simulation' frustrates Pulis
And while there was no shortage of artistry or imagination from the attacking quartet of Fernando Torres, Eden Hazard, Juan Mata and Oscar but for all Chelsea's flicks and faints, Stoke were rarely stretched.
For 85 minutes the champions of Europe were kept, in large part, at arm's length by Stoke, who arguably created the better chances.
The home side had dominated the early exchanges with the quick feet of Hazard and the vision and craft of Mata to the fore.
But Stoke, starved of possession, stood firm to create the two best chances of the opening 45 minutes.
The first, perhaps predictably, came from a set-piece, as Walters rose above the Chelsea defence to head Glenn Whelan's right-wing delivery firmly against Cech's crossbar.
Chelsea pushed and probed, but for all their flicks and flair, the lack of width in their attack allowed Stoke to remain organised and steadfast.
Chelsea march on
Chelsea have won nine and lost none of the last 11 games against Stoke in all competitions.
The Potters have only scored three goals in nine Premier League meetings with the Blues.
Chelsea have won nine and lost just one of their last 12 Premier League games at Stamford Bridge.
Growing in confidence, Stoke surged forward again as half-time approached. Geoff Cameron drove over a right-wing cross which Michael Kightly headed goalwards, Cech saved the initial effort but Gary Cahill was required to clear off the line.
The best of Chelsea's chances fell to Torres in the first half, as the Spanish striker chested down Mata's clever lobbed pass only to miss his kick from six yards with only Begovic to beat.
Stoke struggled to contain Oscar too.
The Brazilian, who was booked for a dive shortly after half-time, almost made amends soon after.
He cut in, feinting and twitching to the edge of the box, slipped the ball on to his left foot but shot straight at Begovic.
And yet the visitors remained a threat, sending on Owen, Kenwyne Jones and Matthew Etherington as they sniffed a chance of a historic upset.
Walters prodded a half-chance narrowly wide of Cech's left-hand post, while Etherington's left-foot drive went flashing wide through a crowd of defenders.
Chelsea kept pouring forward and, with time running out, eventually swept Stoke aside with a goal from an unlikely source.
Chelsea win over Stoke fully deserved - Di Matteo
Lampard, on as a substitute, combined with Victor Moses and Mata on the edge of the box, with the Spaniard finally flicking the ball beyond the Stoke defence with his heel to allow Cole the chance to score the winner. It was the left-back's first Premier League goal since May 2010.
The match ended on a sour note, however, with Chelsea defender David Luiz fortunate to escape a red card for a wreckless challenge on Walters.
But although Di Matteo stressed the importance of the result, it is clear the new Chelsea remains a work in progress.
Against Stoke they needed an old boy to bail them out.
Full Time The referee blows for the end of the match.
Branislav Ivanovic fouled by Matthew Etherington, the ref awards a free kick. Nascimento Ramires takes the free kick.
90:00 +1:35 Booking
Booking David Luiz is shown a yellow card for unsporting behaviour.
Free kick awarded for an unfair challenge on Jonathan Walters by David Luiz. Glenn Whelan takes the direct free kick.
Inswinging corner taken right-footed by Emboaba Oscar from the left by-line.
Free kick awarded for a foul by Fernando Torres on Ryan Shawcross. Free kick taken by Glenn Whelan.
Substitution John Terry on for Juan Mata.
The official flags Fernando Torres offside. Direct free kick taken by Asmir Begovic.
Inswinging corner taken from the left by-line by Emboaba Oscar.
Victor Moses takes a shot. Blocked by Matthew Etherington.
Corner taken right-footed by Glenn Whelan, Nascimento Ramires manages to make a clearance.
Assist by Juan Mata.
84:08 Goal scored
Goal! - Ashley Cole - Chelsea 1 - 0 Stoke Ashley Cole grabs a goal from inside the penalty area low into the middle of the goal. Chelsea 1-0 Stoke.
The referee penalises Kenwyne Jones for handball. Petr Cech restarts play with the free kick.
Branislav Ivanovic concedes a free kick for a foul on Matthew Etherington. Free kick taken by Matthew Etherington.
Substitution (Chelsea) makes a substitution, with Frank Lampard coming on for Mikel.
The referee blows for offside against Victor Moses. Asmir Begovic restarts play with the free kick.
Kenwyne Jones takes a shot. Petr Cech makes a save.
Matthew Etherington has an effort at goal from deep inside the area missing to the right of the goal.
Mikel takes a shot. Asmir Begovic makes a save.
Corner taken left-footed by Juan Mata, Asmir Begovic makes a fantastic save.
Marc Wilson challenges Victor Moses unfairly and gives away a free kick. Branislav Ivanovic restarts play with the free kick.
Substitution Kenwyne Jones comes on in place of Peter Crouch.
The referee blows for offside against Peter Crouch. David Luiz takes the direct free kick.
Substitution Matthew Etherington comes on in place of Michael Kightly.
Effort on goal by Glenn Whelan from outside the area goes harmlessly over the bar.
Emboaba Oscar produces a right-footed shot from the edge of the box and misses to the left of the goal.
Emboaba Oscar takes a shot. Save made by Asmir Begovic.
Inswinging corner taken by Juan Mata from the right by-line played to the near post.
Substitution Charlie Adam goes off and Michael Owen comes on.
Substitution Victor Moses comes on in place of Eden Hazard.
Charlie Adam produces a left-footed shot from just outside the box that misses to the right of the goal.
Foul by Nascimento Ramires on Charlie Adam, free kick awarded. Strike on goal comes in from Jonathan Walters from the free kick.
Effort on goal by Peter Crouch from just inside the penalty area goes over the target.
Unfair challenge on Steven Nzonzi by Nascimento Ramires results in a free kick. Glenn Whelan takes the direct free kick.
Corner taken left-footed by Juan Mata from the left by-line, Peter Crouch makes a clearance.
Charlie Adam takes a shot. Blocked by Gary Cahill. Corner taken left-footed by Charlie Adam, Peter Crouch produces a right-footed shot from deep inside the six-yard box which goes wide of the left-hand post.
Juan Mata produces a left-footed shot from the edge of the box and misses to the left of the goal.
Foul by Michael Kightly on Eden Hazard, free kick awarded. Emboaba Oscar takes the free kick.
Direct free kick taken by Asmir Begovic. Emboaba Oscar takes a shot. Asmir Begovic makes a save.
Booking Emboaba Oscar receives a yellow card for unsporting behaviour.
Peter Crouch challenges David Luiz unfairly and gives away a free kick. Free kick taken by David Luiz.
Free kick awarded for an unfair challenge on Juan Mata by Marc Wilson. Juan Mata restarts play with the free kick.
The match restarts for the second half.
45:00 +1:28 Half time
Half Time The referee calls an end to the first half.
Effort from the edge of the area by David Luiz goes wide of the right-hand post.
Shot from deep inside the area by Ashley Cole goes over the bar.
Corner taken by Juan Mata, clearance by Geoff Cameron.
Inswinging corner taken by Juan Mata.
Emboaba Oscar takes a shot. Blocked by Glenn Whelan.
Michael Kightly takes a shot. Save by Petr Cech. Effort on goal by David Luiz from just inside the area clears the crossbar.
Marc Wilson takes a shot. Save by Petr Cech.
Petr Cech fouled by Jonathan Walters, the ref awards a free kick. Petr Cech takes the direct free kick.
Steven Nzonzi fouled by Fernando Torres, the ref awards a free kick. Free kick taken by Charlie Adam.
Free kick awarded for an unfair challenge on Emboaba Oscar by Robert Huth. Free kick taken by Emboaba Oscar.
Effort from deep inside the area by Eden Hazard misses to the right of the target.
Foul by David Luiz on Peter Crouch, free kick awarded. Glenn Whelan crosses the ball from the free kick right-footed from right wing.
Geoff Cameron gives away a free kick for an unfair challenge on Eden Hazard. David Luiz takes the direct free kick.
Free kick awarded for an unfair challenge on Fernando Torres by Ryan Shawcross. Strike on goal comes in from David Luiz from the free kick, Asmir Begovic makes a comfortable save.
The referee blows for offside. Petr Cech takes the indirect free kick.
Geoff Cameron fouled by Emboaba Oscar, the ref awards a free kick. Geoff Cameron restarts play with the free kick. Free kick awarded for an unfair challenge on Peter Crouch by Gary Cahill. Direct free kick taken by Charlie Adam.
Juan Mata takes a shot. Blocked by Glenn Whelan.
Free kick taken by Gary Cahill.
Booking Charlie Adam is shown a yellow card.
Michael Kightly takes a shot. Blocked by Gary Cahill. Unfair challenge on Nascimento Ramires by Charlie Adam results in a free kick.
Corner taken by Juan Mata from the right by-line.
Ashley Cole gives away a free kick for an unfair challenge on Jonathan Walters. The ball is sent over by Glenn Whelan, Header from deep inside the area by Jonathan Walters goes harmlessly over the crossbar.
Ashley Cole produces a left-footed shot from just outside the box that misses to the right of the net.
Michael Kightly challenges Mikel unfairly and gives away a free kick. Ashley Cole restarts play with the free kick.
Inswinging corner taken by Emboaba Oscar, clearance by Glenn Whelan.
Foul by Emboaba Oscar on Ryan Shawcross, free kick awarded. Asmir Begovic takes the free kick.
Handball by Charlie Adam. Emboaba Oscar takes the free kick.
Emboaba Oscar takes a shot. Robert Huth gets a block in. Eden Hazard takes the inswinging corner, Geoff Cameron makes a clearance.
Charlie Adam gives away a free kick for an unfair challenge on Nascimento Ramires. David Luiz takes the direct free kick.
Unfair challenge on Gary Cahill by Peter Crouch results in a free kick. David Luiz takes the free kick.
Eden Hazard fouled by Geoff Cameron, the ref awards a free kick. Eden Hazard takes the direct free kick.
Foul by Jonathan Walters on Ashley Cole, free kick awarded. David Luiz takes the free kick.
Branislav Ivanovic gives away a free kick for an unfair challenge on Glenn Whelan. Asmir Begovic takes the free kick.
Michael Kightly takes a shot. Corner taken right-footed by Glenn Whelan. Corner from the right by-line taken by Juan Mata, blocked by Robert Huth. Header from deep inside the area by Fernando Torres goes harmlessly over the crossbar.
Corner taken by Eden Hazard, Peter Crouch makes a clearance. Corner from the left by-line taken by Juan Mata, Jonathan Walters makes a clearance.
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