Torres fires twice to give Benitez first league win
London: Fernando Torres struck twice as an improved Chelsea saw off Sunderland 3-1 at the Stadium of Light for their first Premier League win in eight games.
The forward followed up on his midweek double by finishing smartly from a swift counterattack before bagging his second from the spot after Sebastian Larsson fouled Ramires.
Juan Mata added a third on the rebound after Torres hit the woodwork, while Adam Johnson`s fine second-half strike gave Chelsea pause before holding out.
After Steven Fletcher failed a late fitness test, Martin O`Neill handed Connor Wickham his first start up front since December 2011 while Rafa Benitez opted for the same XI who beat Nordsjaelland.
Chelsea threatened immediately, Mata and Eden Hazard twice combining well, before a cross ricocheted awkwardly off both Sunderland centre-backs to drop for Torres at the far post. Mignolet, however, snuffed out the chance.
The Spaniard finally struck after 11 minutes, though, finishing a lightning-fast Chelsea counter. Oriol Romeu won the ball deep before igniting a break, Victor Moses feeding Hazard on the left, who crossed towards the six-yard line, where Torres was waiting to dispatch it coolly.
The visitors were settled and playing well – though that did not stop their fans from singing for Roberto Di Matteo in the 16th minute. Benitez, meanwhile, was forced into an early change when Romeu came off badly in an aerial duel and made way for Oscar.
Sunderland came back into it, however, with a succession of corners and several scrappy Chelsea clearances, the game quietening as the first half went on.
The Blues had their second just before half-time, however, when Sebastian Larsson needlessly clipped Ramires on the edge of the penalty area and Mark Halsey blew for the penalty. Torres stepped up to put away his fourth goal in as many days.
It took only three minutes after the break for another Chelsea goal to come. Phil Bardsley stood, leaden, and allowed a cross to bounce off him into Torres` path. The striker thought that he had his hat-trick but his shot came back off the woodwork and towards Mata, who finished emphatically on the rebound.
Moses nearly added a fourth when he sliced a low shot inches wide but the Blues were cruising until the 67th minute.
After unsettling the Blues defenders from a set-piece, Sunderland regrouped and found Johnson in space on the left flank. His angle was acute but the winger cut a brilliant left-footed finish across Petr Cech and into the net.
Buoyed, the Black Cats pushed for more, Johnson drawing a fine save from Cech with a goalbound free kick. At the other end, John O`Shea kept hope alive by intercepting Torres` cutback.
The good news was all but over for Sunderland as the match petered out but there was time for Craig Gardner to power a free kick against the bar in stoppage time, after which the full-time whistle confirmed a first league win for the Blues under Benitez.