Chelsea will feel they have turned a corner. This contest had actually been fraught for a while, the home side's lead halved and Wigan outraged at the non-award of a penalty for handball against Ashley Cole, with all the memories of those recent capitulations to Southampton, Reading and Newcastle creeping back. There was panic in the ranks and anxiety in the stands, and yet they survived, regained composure and eventually prospered. Perhaps lessons are being learned.
Rafael Benítez can sleep a little easier after this, any doubts among the hierarchy over his ability to deliver Champions League qualification during his interim stewardship presumably shelved for a while. This was a first victory in five games in all competitions, and keeps fifth-placed Arsenal at arm's length. The manager did roll his eyes in the post-match inquest, though only in a knowing way as the questions drifted inevitably back to a familiar subject.
It was Frank Lampard who had eased the nerves and, if the veteran's class is permanent, so, too, are the calls for his Chelsea career to be extended beyond the summer. "In the last two months he's scored 10 goals, so I'm really pleased," said Benítez with the chairman, Bruce Buck, watching on from the audience. "He is fit, his understanding of the game is fine, and he can score goals. If he breaks the club record, I'll be really pleased." Asked how long a player who registered a winner in midweek against Brazil can excel at this level, Benítez said: "If he's available for Thursday night in Prague, I'll be really pleased."
Goal 198, edging him ever closer to Bobby Tambling's club record of 202, had been timely, a calm and assured finish fizzed into the corner from the edge of the area after Eden Hazard has squared and Juan Mata dummied. The outpouring of relief among the crowd quickly gave way to that familiar chorus of "sign him up" but, if the club's insistence that the time has come for a parting of the ways is maybe now not quite as set in stone as it once was, the player still awaits a call with a concrete offer. The guessing game is likely to be extended to the summer.
When the 34-year-old makes an impact like this, it is hard to fathom the logic in dispensing with his services. His is a reassuring presence, but his ability to change games makes him invaluable.
Chelsea had been drifting, with Wigan dismayed that Cole's block with an arm from Ronnie Stam's shot, albeit from a few feet away, had not been deemed worthy of a spot kick. "I tell my defenders not to put themselves in a position where they could concede a penalty like that," said Roberto Martínez. "The shot was on target, and the defender should have had his arm 'attached' to his body so it couldn't have been given. I've seen them too often given against Wigan Athletic."
The Wigan manager could feel aggrieved that his side's flurry of pressure immediately after Chelsea's second goal did not yield parity. Shaun Maloney's skip on to James McArthur's fine chipped pass had culminated in a swerve around Petr Cech and finish into an empty net.
That had prompted the hosts to be jittery but where they had been guilty recently of missing opportunities to settle contests like this, the ruthlessness of old returned. Lampard's third was swiftly followed by Marko Marin's first for the club after the excellent César Azpilicueta had forced Ali al-Habsi to push away a swerving attempt. The gloss had been applied.
Chelsea were always the more dominant side, just as they had been against Southampton and Reading. Their opening goal had been slickly crafted by three of Benítez's bolder selections, David Luiz striding through central midfield and sliding a pass through to Fernando Torres. The striker shifted the ball on instantly, his delivery inside Maynor Figueroa liberating a galloping Ramires in a right-midfield brief, with the Brazilian's finish emphatic.
There is always a risk leaving Mata out of this team, but the management have options returning. Hazard, converting Azpilicueta's delivery, was making his return after the three-game ban following his clash with a ballboy at Swansea. "Now we have options, so we can manage the game in a different way," said Benítez.
His compatriot in the opposite dug-out has more reason for concern. Wigan have won once in 14 league games and will be reliant, yet again, on a late-season rally if they are to haul themselves above the cut-off. "It's a real concern," said Martínez. "But it's the last third of the competition where everything happens. We'll need everyone back from injury and to be perfect, but we have an exciting time ahead of us."
That represented positive spin in trying times, something Benítez has also grown accustomed to delivering.