LONDON (AP) -Ashley Cole spared the blushes of Chelsea's $200 million attack today as the Premier League leaders left it late to secure a 1-0 victory over Stoke on Saturday.
Despite Fernando Torres being supported by the trio of Eden Hazard, Oscar and Juan Mata for the first time up front, it was left to Cole to score his first goal since 2010 in the 85th minute to clinch the points.
It could easily have been a fourth straight match without a victory for Chelsea as Torres again failed to find the net and Jonathan Walters hit the crossbar for Stoke.
But Chelsea went three points ahead of Everton and West Bromwich Albion at the summit on a day when veterans John Terry and Frank Lampard were left out of the starting lineup.
Despite Chelsea enjoying more of the ball, Torres, Hazard, Oscar and Mata played like strangers.
Torres did nod Mata's corner over the top but, otherwise, the Champions League winners took too many touches, made one pass too many and allowed Stoke to gain in confidence.
Stoke should have made the hosts pay in the 20th minute when an unmarked Walters thumped a header from Glenn Whelan's free kick against the crossbar.
All that Chelsea could offer in response was Torres's air-shot after Mata's dink put him one-on-one with Begovic, and David Luiz smashing a wild shot high into the stand.
But Chelsea looked livelier after the break, with Oscar testing Begovic with a low shot before Mata blazed wide.
As the Brazilian became more of a threat, he had another effort saved by Begovic before striking wide but couldn't reproduce the dazzling two-goal display in Wednesday's 2-2 draw against Juventus.
The winner only came after Lampard came on in the final ten minutes, replacing John Obi Mikel, and Terry's arrival helped to secure the victory.