Hazard returns to lift Benitez in romp
Eden Hazard made a goal-scoring comeback to help Chelsea ease the pressure on Rafael Benitez with a 4-1 win against struggling Wigan at Stamford Bridge on Saturday.
Belgium midfielder Hazard was back in action after completing a three-game ban for kicking a ball-boy against Swansea last month and his return was perfectly timed for beleaguered boss Benitez.
It was not pretty at a tense Stamford Bridge, but although the scoreline flattered Chelsea, their first win in five games in all competitions is all that will matter for Benitez.
Ramires opened the scoring and Chelsea appeared to be coasting to a comfortable victory when Hazard struck in the second-half.
But a quick riposte from Shaun Maloney ensured Chelsea were left with a nervy finish before Frank Lampard made sure when he moved within four goals of Bobby Tambling's record haul of 202 for the club.
Substitute Marko Marin headed home in added on time to add the gloss as Chelsea moved back above Tottenham into third place.
It is three years to the day since Luiz Felipe Scolari was sacked by Chelsea.
His reign lasted just seven months and it appears Benitez is in real danger of his Stamford Bridge tenure being cut even shorter.
This win will alleviate some of the pressure. But Benitez will know his future will continue to be shrouded in doubt unless results improve.
A League Cup exit to Swansea, an FA Cup fourth-round draw at League One side Brentford and late collapses at Reading and Newcastle had left serious question marks over Benitez's credentials.
Wigan have never won at Stamford Bridge but their start suggested there was no inferiority complex.
Franco Di Santo, who was making a return to Chelsea, saw his sixth minute shot blocked by the left leg of fit-again goalkeeper Petr Cech.
Cech would be called in action a minute later as he was did well to hold onto Maloney's curling effort after a sluggish Chelsea start.
Chelsea's attack was largely kept in check until the 16th minute when Lampard's pass saw Fernando Torres in space and he showed quick feet before firing straight at Wigan goalkeeper Ali al-Habsi.
It was the sort of chance Torres should have taken. But at least Torres made amends by playing a key role in Ramires' 23rd minute opener.
David Luiz's pass saw Torres cushion a fine return into the Brazilian's path and he did the rest with a lofted finish.
The opening goal had lifted the gloom but the home fans should have been celebrating again before the first-half was over.
Cesar Azpilicueta's cross was met by Torres' 33rd minute header but his close-range effort was tipped over by the Oman goalkeeper.
Chelsea were now dominating and it appeared a matter of when, rather than if, Wigan would crack.
It came as little surprise when they extended their lead with 56 minutes on the clock.
Azpilicueta's surging run and pass saw Hazard in space and the Belgian side-footed home from the edge of the area.
But if Benitez thought he could rest easily, he was made to think again within two minutes as Maloney threw Wigan a lifeline when he rounded Cech before calmly rolling the ball into the empty net from an acute angle.
Lampard got the killer third goal, firing home from 20 yards in the 86th minute before Marin headed home deep into stoppage-time.