After the opening chance, the rest of the first 15 minutes were a back-and-forth affair, with both teams having a number of chances. Oscar, Adam Johnson, and Demba Ba all missed decent chances in the opening period. The tone of the first 15 minutes was one of Chelsea pressing for the opener, failing at the final hurdle, then being pressed back on the counter by Sunderland. Both sides were a bit lucky to avoid conceding early on.
As the match moved into the next phase, it was much of the same, only more magnified. At this point, Chelsea began to lose the ball in midfield more often, and Sunderland began to stretch the Chelsea defence more and more with their counter-attacks. This was also the most contentious period of the match from a Chelsea perspective, as Craig Gardner was lucky to avoid red for a shocking challenge on Demba Ba, who was later substituted due to injury. Chelsea were also denied a pair of penalty shouts.
In truth, they were soft appeals; The first seeing an errant arm deflect the ball from Ba's waiting head, and the second, also featuring Ba, saw the Senegalese wrapped up by the Sunderland defender. While neither were stonewall penalties, Chelsea were nonetheless a tad unlucky to see both denied. Despite the arguable injustice by the referee, the biggest insult was to occur just before the half-hour, when, remembering Jose Mourinho's reference to the Champions League when declaring himself "a special one," Ian Wright declared that, as he'd won it too, Rafa Benitez was a "Special One." He also suggested that an Interim job isn't good enough for a "Special One."
Ian Wright is an idiot. Make a note. It's a recurring theme. As the first half wound to a close, the game fell back into the familiar pattern of Chelsea attacking futilely and Sunderland countering. It seemed all set to go into the half at nil-nil until upon conceding a soft corner, Chelsea were hit from it by a delicious cross which evaded John O'Shea and every other Sunderland player, before striking Cesar Azpilicueta and settling into Petr Cech's net. Sunderland went into the break 1-0 up, and looking good value for their lead, while Chelsea looked lost and were lacking the final ball they needed to unlock the Sunderland defence.
After the half, though, a funny thing happened. Fernando Torres replaced the injured Demba Ba, and was good. Now, he still had the usual Fernando Torres-standard bad touches, but he also managed to terrorise the Northeasterners' defence. In fact, he had a direct role in Chelsea's equaliser inside five minutes of the second half. Eden Hazard found Torres with a pass, from which the Spaniard went on a fabulous run. His pass found Oscar, whose first touch allowed Simon Mignolet to save. Despite this, the ball squirted out, off Matt Kilgallon, and in for Chelsea's equaliser.
After a few-minute spell in which Oscar and Azpilicueta looked to be struggling, the latter saw a shot deflected behind for a corner. It was from that corner that Chelsea found their second, and winning, goal. The corner found its way to David Luiz, whose off-target shot deflected off Branislav Ivanovic and in.
Once Chelsea took the lead, they slowed the game down again. On several occasions, especially late on, Sunderland nearly got an equaliser of their own, but Chelsea always looked the most likely to score again. Neither team ultimately managed to score the goal they were desperately seeking, though Oscar came very close just after the hour mark, finding the side-netting.
Injury, more than anything defined the late stages of the match, with David Luiz taking studs to the foot after a challenge. This required extended treatment, and it was assumed he would be substituted for John Terry. This, however, didn't happen. The Brazilian managed to both make it back on the pitch, but he completed the game. Not before inflicting injury of his own, however. In second-half injury time, he cleared the ball into N'Diaye's chest, putting him on the floor for a few minutes severely-winded.
Ultimately, it wasn't a vintage Chelsea performance. In many ways, it was like many of the matches the club have lost this season and in seasons past. They made a distinctly-average Sunderland side look competent. There may have been an element of "New Manager Bounce," but Sunderland weren't a great side either. The biggest difference between this match and the others this season is that Chelsea managed to pull out a win.
It's not the sort of performance which will inspire confidence in the team or relieve pressure on Rafa Benitez. Who cares, though? Sometimes, you need a dirty, scruffy win, and we got it. Most importantly, we're back into 3rd place, and with a game in hand over Tottenham Hotspur, who drew with Everton today. Essentially this is the sort of performance for which the phrase "still counts" was invented. Yay! Three points!