Before kick-off, the injury- and suspension-hit Hammers ruled out their captain Steve Lomas with a thigh strain, his place going to Ian Bishop who drew a fine save from Dmitri Kharin with a well-placed header, the best chance of the first half.
Andy Impey, the West Ham wing-back, joined their injury list at half- time with a groin problem and was replaced by Steve Potts. Seven minutes after the restart, Chelsea were ahead. Roberto Di Matteo floated over a right-wing free-kick and Laurent Charvet firmly headed in.
The Hammers fought back to equalise through Trevor Sinclair after 69 minutes and six minutes later the defender David Unsworth, who was declared fit only on the morning of the game, scored the winner to put the East Enders in good heart for Tuesday's FA Cup quarter- final replay against Arsenal.
With four of the five teams below them picking up points it was essential that Wimbledon did likewise at home to Leicester City and they duly obliged with a 2-1 win.
Andy Roberts, who recently swapped Selhurst Park clubs when he joined the Dons from Crystal Palace for pounds 1.6m, scored a fortunate opening goal after 14 minutes. As he shaped to shoot, Leicester's Theo Zagorakis tackled him and the ball looped over the stranded Kasey Keller.
Michael Hughes, Wimbledon's former West Ham schemer, was at the heart of most of their best moves and his prompting deserved better finishing than his forwards supplied. They were left to rue missed chances when Robbie Savage grabbed Leicester's equaliser 12 minutes after the restart. Neil Sullivan, the Wimbledon goalkeeper, dropped a hanging cross from Steve Guppy and Savage fired in the loose ball.
But Hughes was left with the last word. Zagorakis only half-tackled Marcus Gayle allowing the striker to move in on goal, and flick the ball across the box to the unmarked Hughes who thumped the ball in first time for an emphatic winner.
A Uefa Cup place is top of the agenda when sixth-placed Derby County entertain Leeds United, seventh and level on points, at Pride Park this afternoon. Both managers are in the unusual position of being able to name unchanged sides following convincing wins.
However, a repeat of the match at Leeds earlier in the season when Derby led 3-0 after 35 minutes only for the Yorkshire side to rally and win 4-3 thanks to Lee Bowyer's 90th-minute winner is unlikely.
In Scotland, Motherwell's Willie Falconer scored only his third goal of the season three minutes from the end of the game against Rangers as Walter Smith's side slipped up again. If Celtic beat Dundee United today they go seven points clear.Reuse content