Faced with a QPR side that has drawn renewed belief in its ability to climb out of the bottom three, Jose Mourinho’s side were forced to scrap, chase and harry before finally clinching victory through Cesc Fabregas’ 87th minute winner.
It was hardly a performance of champions — and nor was Rangers’ showing that of a side tumbling meekly back into the Championship — but it was certainly the kind of display that delivers Premier League titles.
In front of Roman Abramovich, the club owner marking his 700th game since taking charge, Chelsea moved ever closer to securing their fourth title under the Russian’s regime and for Mourinho, the manner of victory reminded him of previous triumphs, at Stamford Bridge and elsewhere.
“Every time I was champion, I remember a couple of matches my team won in the last minute,” said the manager.
“A little light that shines for the team that are going to be champions. Okay we lost two points at Manchester United in the last minute, but we won these two in the last minute.”
Chelsea’s players certainly celebrated like champions, huddled in front of the home supporters beside the goal only to be met by a shower of objects thrown towards the pitch.
It hardly dampened the visitors’ mood — Branislav Ivanovic appeared to be hit by a lighter but Mourinho dismissed the incident by insisting his players should pocket any coins thrown their way —as Chelsea merely reinforced their dominance this season.
Arsenal’s victory at Burnley 24 hours earlier had reduced the gap to four points, with Arsene Wenger’s side still to host the Blues and Manchester United set to visit Stamford Bridge, but Mourinho insisted the form of his side’s rivals have largely been a sideshow this season.
“I don’t know (if this result hurts our rivals),” he said. “What I know is it’s not normal for a team to be top of the league since day one, since August every game top of the league. That’s the team that deserves all the credit. I think we deserve it. Our situation is good. Pure mathematics. We need 11 points.”
The mathematics are indeed irrefutable but Chelsea may have had cause to consider their position to be less comfortable if Rangers had been able to make more of the chances that came their way.
The home side’s effort and commitment could not be faulted, but they were guilty of failing to show enough composure around the Chelsea area and when Matt Phillips did get a sight of goal in the 64th minute, Thibaut Courtois saved superbly.
The keeper has been less than convincing in his last two games but Mourinho said: “I told him that after Hull and Charlie Adam, we needed him to give us a couple of points, and he did that.”
Chelsea’s cause wasn’t helped by an injury to Loic Remy that left Didier Drogba as the only fit striker.
The 37-year-old couldn’t match the mobility of his injured colleagues while normally reliable contributors like Eden Hazard were off colour.
Eventually though, the Belgian sparked into life when a poor clearance from Rangers keeper Robert Green triggered a Chelsea attack that ended with Hazard setting up Fabregas to sidefoot home from 16 yards out.
Mourinho admitted his side had been fortunate but Chris Ramsey and his players need more than hard-luck stories right now.
“I’m really disappointed, with the manner we let the goal in,” said Ramsey, the Rangers manager. “I’m not blaming Robert Green. It wasn’t one of his best kicks, but we had a long time to defend that properly and we didn’t.
“Chelsea are top, romping away with the league, and the game was close. They’ve not come here and out-classed and out-played us. More teams will be looking over their shoulders now at the teams below the line.”
Green 5; Isla 7 (Dunne 90, 6), Onuoha 6, Caulker 7, Hill 7; Phillips 6, Barton 9, Sandro 8 (Kranjcar 80, 6), Henry 7; Austin 6, Zamora 7 (Hoilett 83, 6).
Courtois 7; Ivanovic 6, Cahill 7, Terry 6, Azpilicueta 6; Ramires 4 (Oscar 56, 7), Matic 6; Willian 5 (Cuadrado 79, 6), Fabregas 6 (Zouma 90, 6), Hazard 6; Drogba 6.