Lampard inspires Chelsea to victory to ease pressure on Benitez
FRANK Lampard scored his 198th Chelsea goal to seal victory over Wigan, end a four-match winless run and ease the pressure on interim boss Rafael Benitez.
When Eden Hazard scored after 56 minutes, doubling the advantage provided by Ramires' 23rd-minute opener, Chelsea appeared to be cruising towards three points and a return to third place in the Barclays Premier League.
But Shaun Maloney seized on yet another defensive mistake to halve the deficit and the relegation-threatened visitors might have had a penalty when Ronnie Stam's shot struck Ashley Cole on the arm.
Again it fell to Lampard, whose future is uncertain, to save the Blues, his 86th-minute third moving him within four of Bobby Tambling's club goalscoring record of 202, before substitute Marko Marin added a stoppage-time fourth.
After three wins in the previous 10 matches in all competitions, finally Benitez has more Premier League points than his predecessor, Roberto Di Matteo, whom he replaced in November, albeit in two more games.
It is a result which is likely to at least delay Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich, who is not renowned for his patience, reaching for the trigger.
Chelsea had won 12 and lost one of 15 prior Premier League meetings with Wigan, who were welcome visitors to Stamford Bridge.
There were four changes from the Blues side which lost at Newcastle, with Lampard captain as a result of John Terry's knee injury.
The future of Lampard is unclear, with contradictory speculation in midweek over whether the midfielder will be offered an new contract to extend his 12-year stay beyond this summer.
Petr Cech, who was playing with a finger injury, was tested twice early on, firstly when Franco Di Santo forced him to save smartly with his feet and then when Maloney curled a left-footed effort from the right channel to stretch the goalkeeper.
Hazard had an effort blocked before a Lampard free-kick was flicked on by Torres and went narrowly wide.
A through-ball from Branislav Ivanovic found Torres, who in his previous incarnation - such as under Benitez at Liverpool - might have had the confidence to shot first time. Instead he hesitated and prodded right-footed straight at Ali Al Habsi.
Torres had a key role in the opening goal, turning provider when he dropped deep to meet Luiz's pass and played the ball on first time for Ramires, rampaging into the right channel.
The Brazilian showed composure to lift the ball over the on-rushing Al Habsi.
The goal gave relief and confidence to Chelsea.
Cesar Azpilicueta, who made his Spain debut in midweek, then charged down the right and crossed for his compatriot Torres, who saw his powerful header tipped over by Al Habsi.
Lampard's bouncing shot went narrowly wide from 25 yards and David Luiz ballooned an effort over soon after.
Wigan's attempt to reply before half-time was aided when an Oscar pass hit referee Mike Dean and rolled in the visitors' favour.
Maloney crossed from the right and Azpilicueta had to head behind, with James McArthur lurking at the back post.
Oscar curled over as the first half came to a close and Lampard had an effort blocked on the resumption.
Di Santo fired well over from long range before he was freed by James McCarthy, but unable to find a team-mate with a cross.
Chelsea doubled their advantage when Gary Cahill's free-kick found Azpilicueta, who cut inside and rolled a pass to Hazard.
He struck a first-time shot into the net to celebrate his return from a three-match ban for kicking a ball boy.
As has happened all too often lately when ahead, the Blues relaxed a little too much and Wigan pounced.
Maloney beat the offside trap wide on the right to meet McArthur's pass and Cech raced to meet him. The goalkeeper was unable to reach the ball and was rounded by the Scot, who netted from a narrow angle.
Single-handedly Lampard tried to raise his side, beating McCarthy in the left of the area before shooting wide across goal.
Wigan appealed for a penalty when a Stam shot appeared to hit Cole's arm before substitute Arouna Kone was allowed to make space for a shot, which did not trouble Cech.
It was tense until Lampard's intervention.
Hazard took the ball down the left and passed to the edge of the area. Mata stepped over the ball, leaving it for Lampard, who drilled into the bottom corner with trademark precision.
A fourth came when Al Habsi could only parry a swerving shot from Azpilicueta and substitute Marin headed in the rebound for his first Chelsea goal.
Torres almost got in on the act in the 94th minute but saw his rebound from Ramires' shot saved.