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Jan 12, 2013

Walters own goals boost Benitez's Blues

Two Jonathan Walters own goals helped ease the pressure on Rafael Benitez as Chelsea became the first team to inflict a league defeat on Stoke at the Britannia Stadium this season. Victory keeps alive the Blues' slender title hopes and moves them above Tottenham into third after Spurs were held by QPR. Everton are three points outside the top four after they were held, while at the bottom Reading produced a remarkable comeback.

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Having suffered midweek embarrassment in the Capital One Cup, the last thing Benitez needed was a trip to Stoke, who had not lost a league game at the Britannia all season. However Chelsea, who had John Terry back on the bench alongside the dropped Fernando Torres, produced an impressive performance to win 4-0 courtesy of two own goals from Walters, in addition to a Frank Lampard penalty and a stunner from Eden Hazard.

Victory lifts the Blues back within 11 points of league leaders Manchester United, who play on Sunday, although things might have been different had Kenwyne Jones not screwed the game's first big chance wide when it looked easier to score. Chelsea responded with a fine move of their own midway through the first half, with Lampard denied by a point-blank save from Asmir Begovic, but then Walters had a telling say on the afternoon's action.

The first came on the stroke of half-time when Walters sent a stunning diving header past his own keeper. He then notched his second just after the hour, this time in rather more unfortunate circumstances, and Lampard soon made it three when Juan Mata was felled in the area. Hazard added the fourth with a beauty from distance, before Walters completed a miserable afternoon by blasting over a penalty.

Harry Redknapp made his point against the club that sacked him in the summer as Queens Park Rangers momentarily climbed off the bottom of the table with a 0-0 draw at home to Tottenham, who slip to fourth. Julio Cesar was the star man as QPR - who later dropped back to 20th - frustrated Jermain Defoe and Emmanuel Adebayor in a 90-minute rearguard effort.

The build-up to the London derby saw Redknapp play down the existence of animosity between he and Andre Villas-Boas, and the rivals embraced after emerging from the tunnel for kick-off. While it was not quite the complete revenge QPR's manager may have privately sought, the draw meant his side have taken four points from their last two matches against top-four opposition.

QPR fall back to 20th after Reading dug themselves out of a big hole as they came from two down to win 3-2 against West Brom at the Madejski Stadium. A Romelu Lukaku brace was answered by three goals in the last ten minutes from Jimmy Kebe, Adam Le Fondre and Pavel Pogrebnyak, leaving the Royals three points adrift of 17th spot.

James Morrison - as he often is - was the creator for the Baggies' first, switching the ball from his right foot to left before releasing to Lukaku who played off the last man's shoulder to sweep home. Morrison then hit the woodwork before Lukaku notched his second in the 69th minute.

Kebe gave Reading hope with eight minutes remaining, and then Le Fondre pulled them level from the spot in the 88th minute. Pogrebnyak then scored an unlikely winner in the 90th to complete an incredible comeback.

Everton hosted Chelsea's Capital One Cup tormentors Swansea at Goodison Park, but could only pick up a point in a 0-0 draw as their Champions League push stuttered. The stalemate leaves David Moyes' side three points behind Tottenham in fifth place.

Nikica Jelavic was heavily involved early on, missing a hat-trick of chances inside the opening quarter of an hour. Leon Osman then wasted another opportunity with his head prior to half-time, but Swansea defended well and were worthy of a point.

Newcastle continue to be threatened by relegation after a 0-0 draw at out-of-form Norwich. The Canaries had lost their last four league games, but a dire game of football halted that run and left Newcastle within two points of the relegation zone.

Aston Villa are now in the bottom three after they were beaten 1-0 by Southampton at Villa Park. Paul Lambert's side, following their shock 3-1 cup loss to Bradford, conceded to Rickie Lambert in the first half and are now inside the drop zone on goal difference.

Controversy surrounded the winning goal as Jay Rodriguez appeared to fall without contact inside the area, allowing Lambert to convert from 12 yards.

Wigan are the team to benefit as they drew 1-1 at Fulham, after Franco Di Santo cancelled out Giorgos Karagounis' opener. As a result, the Latics leapfrog Villa into 17th.

Karagounis, taking his personal tally to two in two, unleashed a trademark long-range effort after 22 minutes, finding the net off the inside of a post. Di Santo, who had been poor all afternoon, then found a 71st-minute leveller and both sides wasted glorious chances to win it.

Elsewhere, Sunderland ran out 3-0 winners over West Ham at the Stadium of Light thanks to Sebastian Larsson, Adam Johnson and James McClean. The Black Cats started powerfully on home soil and got their reward in the 12th minute, Larsson lashing home left-footed from 25 yards. Johnson then poked home the second after a scramble in the box, before McClean converted Stephane Sessegnon's mis-hit shot.

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