Chelsea leapfrogged Tottenham into third place in the English Premier League yesterday, profiting from two own goals by the same player to thrash Stoke 4-0 and dismantle English football's only remaining unbeaten home record.
Spurs' lacklustre 0-0 draw against last-place Queens Park Rangers gave the European champions an opportunity to become the nearest challengers to the two Manchester clubs, who are both in action today, and they didn't waste it.
Stoke forward Jonathan Walters endured a disastrous day, twice heading the ball into his own net - in the 45th and 62nd minutes - to set Chelsea on their way before crashing a wild penalty over the crossbar in stoppage time.
Frank Lampard, who converted a penalty, and Eden Hazard, with a thumping 30-yard strike, were the other goalscorers for the visitors to give interim manager Rafa Benitez some respite amid growing disquiet at the direction the club is heading.
"We needed to show character and quality and we did both things," said Benitez, who continues to be jeered by fans angry at his appointment as interim manager in November. "You have to realise the team is doing well.
"The players are happy and training well ... . We cannot control what is going on outside the pitch, but we do our best on the pitch."
Chelsea are 11 points adrift of leaders Manchester United as Benitez's side strives to stay in the title race, but can pull four points clear of Spurs by winning their game in hand - against Southampton last Wednesday.
LACKING ATTACKING FIZ
Tottenham lacked their usual attacking fizz in the stalemate at Loftus Road, ensuring QPR manager Harry Redknapp enjoyed a satisfying reunion with the team that fired him last summer.
Everton and West Bromwich Albion failed to take advantage of Tottenham's slip-up, though, in the fight for Champions league qualification.
Fifth-place Everton were held to 0-0 by Swansea, whose prolific forward Michu was watched by Spain coach Vicente del Bosque after his impressive start to his first season in English football.
West Brom, meanwhile, stayed seventh after conceding three goals in the final eight minutes to lose 3-2 at Reading, which moved two points clear of QPR.
Struggling Aston Villa slipped into the bottom three - and piled the pressure on under-fire manager Paul Lambert - by losing 1-0 at home to Southampton, with Rickie Lambert stroking home the winner from the penalty spot. Wigan moved out of the relegation zone thanks to a 1-1 draw at Fulham.
Newcastle highlighted their need to replace departed striker Demba Ba by drawing 0-0 at Norwich and Sunderland beat West Ham 3-0 for a relieving first win of 2013.