Striker's own-goal nightmare lifts Chelsea
Chelsea's worrying mini-slump came to an end on Saturday, but it was not new signing Demba Ba or $80 million man Fernando Torres who fired the London club back up to third in the English Premier League.
It was another forward who did the damage -- not only to his reputation, but also to Stoke's longstanding unbeaten home record.
Jonathan Walters became just the fourth player to score two own-goals in a Premier League match, and possibly the first to also miss a penalty, as Chelsea cruised to a 4-0 victory at the Britannia Stadium.
It lifted the pressure on manager Rafael Benitez after successive home defeats to the EPL's bottom team Queens Park Rangers last weekend and then in the first leg of the English League Cup semifinals against Swansea on Wednesday.
"It was a difficult game, especially in the first half. We knew it would be," Benitez told reporters after his team closed to within 11 points of leaders Manchester United, who face Liverpool on Sunday.
"We knew it would be physical and intense, but we were ready for that. The goal changed the game because they had to go forward and left space, which meant little by little we could control the game."
The scores were level until first-half injury time, when Walters headed a cross from Chelsea defender Cesar Azpilicueta past his own keeper.
It got worse for the Republic of Ireland international in the 62nd minute, as he again headed past Asmir Begovic from Juan Mata's corner.
Mata was brought down soon after, allowing veteran midfielder Frank Lampard to continue his scoring run with a penalty, and Eden Hazard sealed it with a superb long-range effort.
There was still time for Walters to gain some redemption in his 100th EPL appearance but, given the chance to net his sixth league goal for Stoke this season after being fouled by the returning John Terry, the 29-year-old blasted his injury-time penalty against the crossbar.
"Jon's fine. We look after people at the football club. It wasn't our day today, it was Chelsea's day," said Stoke manager Tony Pulis, whose 10th-placed team lost at home for the first time since February, a run of 17 games.
Terry came on as a second-half substitute, having been out for two months with a knee injury.
"I was trying to give him some minutes to see how he was," Benitez said. "I watched him in the reserve team but this is totally different, so we played five at the back and tried to protect him a bit.
"We will see how he trains and if he has no problems, it is a question of fitness now."
Fellow central defender Gary Cahill missed the match to be at the birth of his son. "The baby is fine and they are happy," Benitez said.
Tottenham failed to stay in third place after being held 0-0 at QPR, now managed by former Spurs boss Harry Redknapp.
It was Emmanuel Adebayor's final appearance for Tottenham before leaving for the African Cup of Nations, having patched up his differences with Togo officials.
Despite two strong results against top-four teams, Redknapp's side are now two points adrift at the bottom of the table following Reading's 3-2 win at home to seventh-placed West Brom.
The promoted side scored three goals in the last 10 minutes, with the winner from Russia striker Pavel Pogrebnyak, after on-loan Chelsea striker Romelu Lukaku netted twice in the first half.
Everton stayed fifth, three points behind Tottenham, after being held 0-0 by ninth-placed Swansea.
Southampton moved out of the bottom three with a 1-0 win at Aston Villa that dropped the home side into the relegation zone, putting more pressure on manager Paul Lambert.
Striker Rickie Lambert scored the only goal from the penalty spot for his ninth league goal this season.
Sunderland moved up to 14th with a 3-0 win over West Ham that left the London side in 11th, above Norwich on goal difference.
Norwich drew 0-0 at home to struggling Newcastle, while Wigan moved above Aston Villa on goal difference after coming from behind to draw 1-1 at 13th-placed Fulham.
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