Didier Drogba fired Chelsea back to the top of the Premier League with two second-half goals in a 4-1 win over struggling West Ham. Alex set Carlo Ancelotti's side on their way with a 16th minute header and while Scott Parker levelled for West Ham in the 30th minute, the home side sealed the points through second half goals from Drogba and Florent Malouda.
Last weekend's FA Cup victory over Stoke City had silenced talk of a growing crisis at Stamford Bridge that followed successive defeats to Inter Milan and Manchester City. Yet while Chelsea were securing their place in the semi-finals of the competition, they relinquished their standing at the head of the table to Manchester United, who took advantage of the Blues' break from league duties.
This then was Chelsea's chance to reclaim the position they have occupied for most of the season although their preparations were hampered by an injury to stand-in keeper Hilario. The Portuguese was drafted in for a rare run in the side after Petr Cech was injured against Inter but pulled his groin against Stoke, paving the way for Ross Turnbull to make his first league appareance for the club since his summer move from Middlesbrough.
Recent form suggested that Turnbull would get little chance to stake his claim for more regular action with West Ham hitting a new low with last weekend's home defeat to Bolton. That left Gianfranco Zola's side on the fringe of the bottom three and the manager admitted before this game they needed ten points from their last ten games to have a chance of staying up.
Having failed to win away from home since the opening day of the season, the odds were stacked against the Hammers making a dent in that target at Stamford Bridge. But they should have taken early control of the game in the 13th minute when Ilan, the Brazilian striker signed from St Etienne in January, had a glorious chance to put the visitors ahead.
Jonathan Spector's perseverance won possession from Paulo Ferreira on the Chelsea by-line and allowed Mido to pull the ball back towards Ilan who was unmarked ten yards from goal yet somehow managed to blast the ball over the bar. West Ham were never going to get many chances and it quickly became clear that Ilan's miss could prove costly when his fellow Brazilian Alex put Chelsea ahead three minutes later.
A half cleared corner was returned to Florent Malouda whose floated cross picked out the unmarked Alex and the centre back directed a powerful header beyond Hammers keeper Rob Green. Backed by that early strike, Chelsea began to dominate and should have put the game out of the visitors' reach long before half time. They were guilty, however, of over elaborating and failed to convert their territorial advantage into meaningful chances.
That meant West Ham were always within touching distance and Zola's side levelled in spectacular style when Parker latched onto a loose ball 30 yards out and sent a dipping volley beyond Turnbull to equalise. The Hammers finished the first half with much more confidence but that quickly faded after the break when Drogba headed home in the 56th minute from Malouda's cross.
Malouda than claimed a deserved third when he moved inside to collect Drogba's lay-off and finished left footed past Rob Green. Drogba completed the scoring in the final minute, turning home from close range to collect his 27th goal of the season.