John Terry grabbed a stoppage-time winner as leaders Chelsea showed their Premier League title mettle by snatching a 1-0 victory over Everton on Saturday (local time) having looked set to suffer another damaging blow.
The Chelsea captain strained every sinew to get a faint touch to a Frank Lampard free kick in the 93rd minute and keep his team a point clear of Arsenal who thrashed Sunderland 4-1 and three ahead of Manchester City who beat Stoke City 1-0.
Olivier Giroud netted twice for Arsenal while Yaya Toure was the match-winner for Manchester City who have a game in hand on their two rivals.
After drawing their last league match against West Bromwich Albion and suffering a chastening FA Cup defeat to rivals Manchester City, Jose Mourinho's side were looking for a morale-boosting return to form.
Yet they looked sluggish for most of the match and after finally sparking into life they came up against a stubborn Everton rearguard that only crumbled deep into added time.
"The feeling when you lose points in the last minute, like we did at West Brom, is obviously a bad feeling. When you win in the last minute it's the opposite so this is basically compensation for the points we lost at West Brom," Chelsea boss Mourinho told reporters.
With Chelsea having never lost a home league match under the Portuguese, and Everton without a win at Stamford Bridge in 20 years, it came as a surprise to see Roberto Martinez's men make all the running in the first half.
Predictably Chelsea changed things up at the break and the energetic Ramires was prematurely summoned from the bench to replace an injured Oscar.
It had an immediate impact on the flow of the game and the pressure built on the Everton goal but Chelsea's attacking waves broke down at the final hurdle until the third minute of stoppage time.
At the final whistle Everton's feeling of injustice was heightened as it looked like Brazilian Ramires had gone down easily under a challenge from Phil Jagielka to bring about the free kick that led to the only goal.
BUY FREE KICKS
"It was one of those situations where players were trying to buy too many free kicks," said Martinez.
"You need a strong referee ... you can see they are trying to get a dead-ball situation because they couldn't get any joy from open play.
"You can see the reaction and the way he loses his footing, it's not because of contact, he is looking for the free kick," added Martinez of Ramires.
The bullied became the bullies at the Emirates Stadium as Arsenal recovered from the 2-0 home defeat by Bayern Munich in the Champions League on Wednesday to inflict a bruising on relegation strugglers Sunderland.
Having spent most of their match against the Germans chasing shadows, the home team jealously hogged possession against Gus Poyet's side, scything through them with a swagger that has been absent recently.
With Mesut Ozil rested after his penalty miss against Bayern, Arsenal took the lead after five minutes when Giroud put the finishing touch to a sweeping passing move.
The Frenchman, returning after being benched in midweek, capitalised on shocking defending to double the lead after 31 minutes and Tomas Rosicky capped another excellent move to make it 3-0 three minutes before the break.
Sunderland's woeful defending cost them a fourth goal 12 minutes after halftime when Laurent Koscielny was left in acres of space to power in a free header before the visitors mustered a late consolation through Emanuele Giaccherini's smart volley.
Manchester City also gained redemption for a painful 2-0 Champions League defeat by Barcelona on Tuesday by returning to winning ways against Stoke although they had to wait until the 70th minute to break through.
Toure swept in an Aleksandar Kolarov cross to relieve the pressure on manager Manuel Pellegrini who had endured a difficult week after being charged by UEFA for questioning the impartiality of their referee in Europe.
At the other end of the table, Felix Magath, Fulham's third manager since Dec. 1, was denied a winning start against West Bromwich Albion when Matej Vydra notched an 86th-minute equaliser to earn a 1-1 draw after Ashkan Dejagah had opened the scoring.
Bottom club Fulham stay a point behind Cardiff City whose sorry season hit a new low after a 4-0 home defeat by Hull City, Nikica Jelavic scoring twice.
Hull are six points clear of trouble, one behind 10th-placed West Ham United who continued their recent resurgence with a 3-1 win over Southampton.
Maya Yoshida headed Southampton in front but West Ham struck back to record their fourth straight league win with goals from Matt Jarvis, Carlton Cole and Kevin Nolan.
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