Paolo Di Canio's debut match as Sunderland boss ended in a 2-1 defeat as Chelsea returned to the top four of the Barclays Premier League with a third successive win at Stamford Bridge.
The build up to Di Canio's first match as successor to Martin O'Neill was overshadowed by debate over the controversial Italian's character after his 2005 statement proclaiming to be a "fascist but not a racist" and he could not prevent Sunderland's winless run extending to nine games.
Chelsea trailed at half-time to Cesar Azpilicueta's own goal, but Matt Kilgallon deflected into his own net following a surging run by substitute Fernando Torres and Branislav Ivanovic directed a David Luiz shot into the Sunderland goal to put the Blues in front after 55 minutes.
It proved to be the winner as Chelsea, who beat Manchester United on Monday and Rubin Kazan on Thursday, returned above Tottenham on goal difference and into third place.
Sunderland were playing on the counter attack and Stephane Sessegnon found Adam Johnson, whose curling shot was blocked by Luiz before Craig Gardner was booked for a scissor-like late lunge on Demba Ba. It might have been red.
Eden Hazard's tame header from Oscar's cross was easily saved by Simon Mignolet, before Sunderland broke and claimed a 45th-minute corner when Luiz deflected the recalled Connor Wickham's shot wide. Johnson's set-piece was flicked on by John O'Shea and Azpilicueta could only deflect the ball into his own net.
Having been animated throughout, pacing in his technical area, Di Canio's celebration was muted. Torres came on at half-time for Ba, whose movement was limited after Gardner's challenge, and his first act led to Chelsea's equaliser.
Buoyed by his double against Rubin, Torres scythed in off the left wing and found Oscar, who, for once, lost control of the ball as Mignolet raced to meet him. The ball ricocheted off the goalkeeper and hit Kilgallon before spinning into the far corner.
Chelsea also benefited from good fortune for their second after 55 minutes. Azpilicueta's long-range effort deflected out for a corner and Wickham failed to clear. Luiz struck a low shot which Ivanovic cleverly turned in with a back-heel. The relief was palpable as the Blues fans sang in support of their rejuvenated team.
Hazard headed over from an Oscar cross before Gardner caught Luiz as another meaty tackle left a Chelsea player requiring treatment. Another moment of worry for Chelsea came when Johnson went by Mikel and curled a shot around the post. Di Canio's former West Ham team-mate Frank Lampard was introduced for the final skirmishes but Sunderland could not find an equaliser.