Late goals from substitute Juliano Belletti and Frank Lampard spared Chelsea’s blushes as they came from behind to beat a belligerent Stoke.
Rory Delap had earlier given City the lead, latching on to a James Beattie pass and chipping over Petr Cech.
But with three minutes to go Belletti popped up at the far post to head home a Franco Di Santo cross.
And deep into injury time Lampard lashed in a fierce drive from the edge of the area to earn Chelsea the win.
The ecstasy that greeted Lampard’s winner, particularly the mobbing of manager Luis Felipe Scolari, was a clear expression of the spirit and unity that the Chelsea boss had called for from his players.
However, prior to the last five minutes it was Stoke who had shown arguably the greater desire and they will be bitterly disappointed to lose out on what would have been a famous result.
Scolari had praised Stoke before the match as “more dangerous than all the teams in England and the world” because of the threat they pose to his side from set-pieces, an aspect of play to which the Blues have been particularly vulnerable of late.
It was certainly looking ominous for Chelsea when skipper John Terry’s involvement was ended due to an injury in the warm-up.
Within the first minute the visitors were fulfilling Scolari’s prophetic warning, with Delap’s long throw requiring a panicked clearance from Ricardo Carvalho as Cech uncharacteristically flapped at the ball.
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let this game be a launch pad for the rest of the season
After this early scare Chelsea settled and, as expected, dominated possession but clear-cut chances were few and far between.
After 22 minutes Lampard floated in a free-kick that Salomon Kalou somehow contrived to side-foot over from inside the six-yard box.
As the half wore on Chelsea’s territorial dominance translated into an increase in goalscoring opportunities but Nicolas Anelka, Lampard and Ashley Cole were all denied by an inspired Thomas Sorensen in the Potters goal.
City debutant Beattie worked hard, along with the equally physical Richard Cresswell but they lacked an efficient supply line, particularly after Delap’s throw-in radar deserted him later in the half.
The second half continued in the same vein with Chelsea camped in the Stoke half but failing to convert any chances with Michael Ballack’s header wide on 50 minutes a particularly glaring example.
It was with Stoke’s first opening of any substance, and completely against the run of play, that they scored.
Beattie expertly held up a long ball before turning and feeding Delap who held off the challenge of Cole before chipping superbly over Cech.
A visibly shell-shocked Chelsea took some time to recover, but when they did it was once again to lay siege to the Stoke goal but initially to no avail.
Lampard lashed a shot past the right-hand post in the 65th minute and Cole saw an angled drive flash wide.
With the match seemingly drifting away from them, Chelsea conjured up an equaliser as substitutes Di Santo and Belletti combined, the latter nodding in the former’s cross at the far post.
With Stoke rocking, Chelsea delivered the knock-out blow deep into injury time as Lampard latched onto an Anelka pass on the edge of the area to drive home the winner past a flailing Sorensen.
Chelsea manager Luis Felipe Scolari:
“What you need, Frank gives to you. Before I have some pressure, now I don’t have pressure.
“Today it was important to win because we got three points and we did not concede from a set-piece.”
“I understand they are happy with this result and we are more together than before because we have won two games.”
Stoke manager Tony Pulis:
“We are desperately disappointed but you have to give credit to Chelsea.
“We knew we were going to have to defend. Thomas Sorensen was brilliant. He made some superb saves.
“When we scored we thought it might just be our day. But the lads have been smashing and I can’t fault them.”
Chelsea: Cech, Bosingwa (Belletti 78), Carvalho, Alex, Ashley Cole, Lampard, Mikel (Stoch 82), Ballack, Malouda (Di Santo 60), Anelka, Kalou.
Subs Not Used: Cudicini, Ivanovic, Mancienne, Kakuta.
Goals: Belletti 88, Lampard 90.
Stoke: Sorensen, Wilkinson, Shawcross, Abdoulaye Faye, Higginbotham (Griffin 34), Delap, Whelan, Amdy Faye (Pugh 28), Etherington (Kitson 83), Beattie, Cresswell.
Subs Not Used: Simonsen, Olofinjana, Lawrence, Sonko.
Booked: Amdy Faye, Kitson, Whelan.
Goals: Delap 60.
Ref: Peter Walton (Northamptonshire).