Chelsea did little to quicken the pulses and when they reflect upon a victory that was chiselled from Crystal Palace, their only real source of assurance will come from a glance at the Premier League table. It shows them sitting prettily in second place, two points off Arsenal's pace. Their next league fixture is at the Emirates on 23 December.
This was anything but pretty. Chelsea got what they needed yet it was not the antidote to their recent toils. So many of their big-name players were curiously off-key. It is rather stating the obvious but title-winning teams surely have to be better than this.
José Mourinho's players are stuttering and the manager was reduced to calling for the whistle at the end. Palace called the tune in the second half and only John Terry's remarkable intervention from in front of the line after the substitute Stuart O'Keefe had shot past Petr Cech prevented the visitors from restoring parity for a second time. Branislav Ivanovic blocked O'Keefe's second attempt.
Chelsea ought to have fashioned a little gloss to the scoreline at the very end but Ramires's fluffed square pass when clean through, and with the substitutes Oscar and Demba Ba free in front of goal, summed things up. Julián Speroni also made a marvellous double save to deny André Schürrle, another substitute, and Ba. For much of what had gone before in the second half, it was the visitors who looked the likelier scorers. Cameron Jerome fired high after an Ivanovic error; Jason Puncheon drew a save from Cech on the break and Damien Delaney headed at the goalkeeper from Puncheon's free-kick.
Tony Pulis covered every inch of the technical area and he went through agonies as his team went close to a reward. The substitute Yannick Bolasie, who made an impact, headed over when unmarked and, after the O'Keefe drama, Delaney flashed another header wide.
It was somehow disconcerting to see a Mourinho team allowing their opponents so much space. Palace have not won here for 31 years but they deserved something, as much for their spirit as anything else. They refused to play the role of stooges, despite falling behind twice. Mourinho lamented his team's inability to go 2-0 or 3-1 up, and they did have the chances in the first half. "It could have been 5-1 or 2-2," he said. It was the latter, though, that felt more likely as the game wore on.
Chelsea had shown moments of looseness in the early running. Never mind that David Luiz was nutmegged by Jerome – the Brazil defender also lost a dribble with a heavy touch. He had a strangely uncomfortable afternoon but he was not alone. Ramires and Juan Mata made errors on the ball.
Chelsea went ahead with their first attack of note and although Willian's 25-yard shot that created the goal was well struck, it was disappointing from Palace's point of view that Speroni got nothing more to it than fingertips to divert the ball on to the post. The rebound fell to Fernando Torres in a way that has not always happened during his Chelsea career and he gratefully accepted the good fortune, sweeping home his second league goal of the season.
The home team sparked briefly. Torres drove at Joel Ward, turning him inside and out; Mata's wonderful flick released Ivanovic, who shot narrowly wide, and Michael Essien tried his luck from distance. But Palace fashioned a foothold with their best moment of the afternoon. Marouane Chamakh moved the ball to Puncheon and headed for the penalty area and when Ward crossed, the striker volleyed low and left-footed into the corner of the net. It was Chamakh's third goal in three matches. He scores when he wants, according to the travelling Palace fans.
Chelsea responded. Pulis wanted a foul on Jerome at the other end but when Eden Hazard cut back to Ramires and Palace stood off him, the midfielder took full advantage. His right-footed shot from the edge of the box fizzed high past Speroni. Willian might have had another for Chelsea before the interval but he shot weakly when well-placed. Mourinho booted a kit-bag in frustration.
It was that kind of an afternoon for him. When the whistle did go and he had felt that surge of relief, he made for the Palace supporters to applaud them. They had been loud throughout to make the atmosphere in what was an entertaining derby. Chelsea squeaked home.