A cold and blustery night at the Britannia Stadium is not everyone’s idea of fun.
But where Arsenal failed with a 3-2 defeat earlier this month, Chelsea came through.
Their 2-0 win thanks to goals from John Terry and Cesc Fabregas will never be seen as a high point of their campaign even if they go on to win the Premier League title.
However it may be seen as one of the most crucial results of the season.
The performance was at times disjointed but Jose Mourinho’s side got the job done on a difficult evening where Stoke treated them to a war of attrition.
The goal that settled it, an ugly finish by Fabregas who completely mishit his shot perhaps best summed up a night where Chelsea looked far from champions.
But the best sides always get the required outcomes and now Chelsea will now go into Christmas three points clear of nearest rivals Manchester City.
They could not have got off to a better start as they took a lead inside the opening 90 seconds as Terry rose highest above Geoff Cameron to head a corner from Fabregas past Asmir Begovic.
It was the former England captain’s first league goal of the season but more pertinently a 12th assist of the season for Fabregas.
“It is a very tough place to come but the goal early on gave us a platform to build on and from then on we were in control of the whole game,” Terry said.
“Man City have come from nowhere and the good teams around us can put a run of games together. So it was an important win for us
“This team needs to go on and win trophies but we are building the right foundations.”
Mourinho added: “It is a victory that means a bit more than the three points. To win here you need to put more than just your quality.
“I don’t think what you did in the past is important. We’ve been top of the league from the beginning. We’re playing really well.”
After Terry’s early goal, Mourinho’s side came close to a second as Diego Costa dragged a shot wide of the post.
Stoke’s physical style of play appeared to upset Chelsea with Costa caught in an aerial collision by Ryan Shawcross.
Shortly afterwards Phil Bardsley was only booked for a late challenge on Eden Hazard on the touchline, a decision that prompted Mourinho to protest from outside the technical area.
The moment seemed to spur on Stoke who went close within seconds as Steven Nzonzi’s deflected shot was pushed behind by Thibaut Courtois.
But it should have been 2-0 on the half hour as Fabregas slide-rule pass breached the Stoke offside trap as Costa ran on to the through ball before dragging his shot wide.
Costa was then denied a pathway to goal by an excellent Shawcross tackle after some more quick-thinking by Fabregas had set up the attack.
Stoke created brief moments of optimism at the start of the second half with Peter Crouch heading over from Bardsley’s cross from the right.
At the other end, Willian’s run from the right resulted in him firing straight at Begovic whilst Erik Pieters had a coming together with Costa which resulted in a booking for the Stoke left back.
The Londoners carved out another opening as Hazard crossed for Fabregas whose near-post flick was straight at Begovic.
Chelsea were not at their free-flowing best though with Matic summing up a less than clinical attacking performance with an air shot when well placed.
The visitors were proving to be the most likely to get a second goal of the game though with Willian seeing a free-kick deflect wide for a corner.
Crouch had endured a frustrating evening and he was replaced by Mame Diouf as Mark Hughes looked for a way back into the contest.
Marco Arnautovic then saw an effort deflected wide for a corner but Stoke’s set pieces were proving to be unthreatening although Charlie Adam was soon brought on for Geoff Cameron to help improve the crossing.
Immediately forward Jonathan Walters came close to being able to get on the end of one Adam delivery and the Scottish midfielder was having a really positive impact on the game, drilling a left-footed shot wide from the edge of the area from Nzonzi’s lay-off. But Stoke could not get the goal with Fabregas settling the contest 12 minutes from time, taking on Hazard’s ball before scuffing his shot past Begovic.
It may have been a fortunate goal but the Spaniard was still able to celebrate a fourth goal for the club he joined from Barcelona in the summer.
Chelsea could have added further goals late with substitute Andre Schurrle setting up Costa who was denied by Begovic and the pressure suddenly eased off their shoulders after a far from easy evening.
Stoke refused to give up with substitute of their own Oussama Assaidi foiled by Courtois after finding space down the left and Adam also fired just over in injury time.
Hazard was replaced late in the game after getting a kick to his foot following a challenge by Walters.
An injury to one of their key players is not something that Mourinho will want but it did not look serious in nature. It was a night where Chelsea certainly passed their test of character.
STOKE CITY (4-2-3-1): Begovic 6; Bardsley 5, Shawcross 6, Muniesa 6, Pieters 6; Nzonzi 7, Cameron 6 (Adam 68, 7); Walters 6, Bojan 6, Arnautovic 6 (Assaidi 82, 6); Crouch 5 (Diouf 63, 6).
CHELSEA (4-2-3-1): Courtois 6; Ivanovic 6, Cahill 6, Terry 8, Azpilicueta 6; Mikel 6, Matic 7; Willian 7 (Schurrle 80, 6), Fabregas 8, Hazard 7 (Zouma 90); Costa 7 (Drogba 85, 6).
Referee: Neil Swarbrick.