London: Two own goals by Stoke City forward Jonathan Walters set Chelsea on their way to a 4-0 Premier League victory on Saturday that gave under-fire interim manager Rafael Benitez some respite and lifted his side to third place.
Walters had a nightmare afternoon at the Britannia stadium, putting through his own net with a diving header on the stroke of halftime, then beating Stoke keeper Asmir Begovic again with a header from a corner just past the hour. He also missed a late penalty.
Stoke have not beaten Chelsea in the league since 1975 and Frank Lampard’s penalty and a fine Eden Hazard goal put the Londoners one point ahead of fourth-placed Tottenham Hotspur who drew 0-0 at Queens Park Rangers in the lunchtime kickoff.
Rangers prop up the standings after Reading staged a remarkable comeback to beat West Bromwich Albion 3-2, scoring three times in the last eight minutes after trailing to Romelu Lukaku’s double.
Aston Villa dropped into the bottom three following Southampton striker Rickie Lambert’s contentious first-half penalty that secured their fellow strugglers a 1-0 victory at Villa Park.
Chelsea moved within four points of Manchester City, and 11 behind Manchester United, after getting a helping hand — or head — at Stoke, normally ferocious opponents on home turf. Victory should bring some relief to Benitez amid growing discontent among Chelsea fans still seething at the Spaniard’s appointment and his team’s inconsistent performances.
In their previous two games Chelsea suffered a shock home league defeat by QPR followed by a midweek loss to Swansea City in the first leg of the League Cup semi-final at Stamford Bridge.
Chelsea also got a boost on Saturday with the return to first-team action of captain John Terry after two months out with a knee injury.