Chelsea won first time under Rafael Benitez with Fernando Torres scoring twice against Sunderland at the Stadium of Light.
The Blues finally secured victory at the fourth attempt under their interim manager to end a run of seven league games without success to stay hot on the heels of both Manchester clubs at the Premier League summit.
But as the pressure was being relieved on Benitez it continued to rise on Black Cats boss Martin O’Neill, who’s side have now won just two games in their last 23 and find themselves in the bottom three.
An inability to take charge in a game as underpinned their slide and it was no different on a freezing cold day on Wearside as the visitors controlled proceedings from the first whistle.
It took only 11 minutes for Chelsea to break the deadlock as Torres offered a reminder of his undisputed quality, showing superb balance and technique to beat Simon Mignolet with a volley from Eden Hazard’s cross.
That appeared to jolt Sunderland into life and Stephane Sessegnon forced Petr Cech into a save with a well driven effort from range that swerved on its way to goal.
But thats as good as it got in the opening 45 minutes for the hosts as Torres doubled his tally and his sides advantage from the penalty spot, his first from 12-yards in English football, after Sebastian Larsson hacked down Ramires in injury time.
And it was game, set, match to the West London club just four minutes after the restart, Mata driving the ball into the far corner after Torres had hit the bar following Phil Bardsley’s mis-kick.
Victor Moses went close to a fourth soon after before Adam Johnson gave the home supporter reason to celebrate when he rifled a stunning strike past Cech in the 66th minute.
A flood of late pressure from the hosts failed to pay dividends with David Luiz and Gary Cahill both making crucial blocks to ensure Benitez was celebrating at the final whistle.