Chelsea moved level on points with fourth-placed Arsenal thanks to a 1-0 triumph over ten-man Stoke at Stamford Bridge.
The Blues, beaten on their last Premier League outing against West Brom, looked fluent from the outset, controlling the early stages - and their task was made easier when Ricardo Fuller was sent off for a stamp on Branislav Ivanovic. Yet Chelsea, who were captained by John Terry on his return from injury, could not find a first-half opener despite dominating, although they hit the bar twice through Ivanovic and Gary Cahill.
Shortly after Asmir Begovic pulled off a world-class save to keep Stoke level, the Blues' pressure finally told, with Didier Drogba finding the back of the net - his 100th Premier League goal - midway through the second period. The Ivory Coast international rounded Begovic, having been found via a fine pass from Juan Mata. Di Matteo now faces up to the tougher task of trying to reverse a 3-1 first-leg deficit when Chelsea face Napoli in midweek.
Tottenham slipped to their third defeat on the spin in the Premier League, with Nikica Jelavic earning Everton a 1-0 win.
Spurs' title charge was derailed by losses to Manchester United and Arsenal, and a reverse at the hands of the Toffees deals a blow to their Champions League aspirations.
Jelavic arrived at Everton from Rangers and the Croatian demonstrated why with a delightful finish following excellent approach play from Leon Osman. Jermain Defoe had the ball in the back of the net for Spurs, but his effort was chalked out by an offside flag, while Louis Saha hit a post in injury-time.
Liverpool's hopes of playing Champions League football next season suffered another setback as they fell to a 1-0 defeat at Sunderland.
Black Cats striker Nicklas Bendtner, on loan from Arsenal, boosted his parent club in the battle for fourth when he found the target in the second half. Fraizer Campbell's shot hit the post twice - once after ricocheting off Pepe Reina's back - before Bendtner was on hand to tap in. Kenny Dalglish's side struggled to produce clear-cut opportunies throughout, and they have now won just one of eight Premier League fixtures in 2012.
Blackburn moved three points clear of the relegation places with a vital 2-0 victory against Wolves, who have now won just one of their last 14 league games.
Junior Hoilett broke the deadlock in fine fashion at the end of a poor first half that highlighted both teams' lack of confidence. Morten Gamst Pederson's long throw was met by a Wolves head, and went straight to Hoilett, who lashed home first-time. His second of the game was even better: a low, skidding shot from 25 yards that arrowed into the corner. Rovers closed out the match for their first clean sheet of the Premier League season.
Ivan Klasnic's late winner handed Bolton three crucial points against QPR in a 2-1 victory that saw mistakes from the officials punish both teams.
QPR were incensed when Clint Hill's header was not given as a goal despite clearly crossing the line - and their anger intensified when Darren Pratley headed Bolton into the lead from Tim Ream's cross.
However, the Hoops were fortunate when they did draw level: Djibril Cisse was offside when he latched onto Shaun Wright-Phillips' through-ball before rifling past Adam Bogdan. The visitors shaded a low-quality second period - yet it was Bolton who claimed three points when substitutes Chris Eagles and Klasnic combined for the latter to steer a left-foot effort past Paddy Kenny.
An injury-time winner from Andreas Weimann gave Aston Villa a 1-0 victory at home to Fulham and relieved the pressure on under-pressure manager Alex McLeish. Weimann bundled in after Mark Schwarzer could not hold Gary Gardner's shot.
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