John Terry was brought on for only the last few minutes as Chelsea played safe in protecting the late lead given to them by Ashley Cole's first goal since he scored with almost the last kick of the 2009-10 season.
Almost two and a half years on, Chelsea are on top of the table again, and the little dink over goalkeeper Asmir Begovic was more significant for being the goal that ensured they would stay there this morning whatever the weekend's other results.
"The ball came to me so quickly I didn't have time to think," Cole said in a rare interview. It took others to point out he had begun the move leading to that fine finish by bringing the ball out of defence at pace.
"Mentally that is good for us," Cole added. "It has taken two years for us to be top of the league again and, hopefully, we can stay there, but there is a long way to go,"
Chelsea's manager, Roberto di Matteo, who has recommended that the 31-year-old should be offered a new contract extension, said: "He's a fantastic pro, which I'm not sure whether you know, somebody that's the first one out in training."
The way Chelsea played, with three midfielders who all prefer operating in the centre rather than wide, it was incumbent on both full-backs to push forward, but Stoke repelled them comfortably for most of the afternoon and were closest to a goal with Jonathan Walters' header against the bar before Cole's late intervention.
Their manager, Tony Pulis, was annoyed at shocking dives by Oscar and Branislav Ivanovic in the penalty area. Oscar received a yellow card, as did his fellow Brazilian David Luiz, which Pulis was not alone in thinking should have been a different colour for a bad tackle on Walters.
As Pulis pointed out, Luiz cannot be banned because the referee saw the incident. "It's absolutely crazy," he said. "Ridiculous. But I don't make the rules. I'm just a football manager."
Chelsea: CECH 6/10; IVANOVIC 6; CAHILL 7; LUIZ 7; COLE 8; MATA 8; MIKEL 7; OSCAR 7; RAMIRES 6; HAZARD 6; TORRES 5
Stoke: BEGOVIC 7; WILSON 7; HUTH 7; SHAWCROSS 8; CAMERON 6; ADAM 6; WHELAN 7; NZONZI 7; KIGHTLY 6; CROUCH 6; WALTERS 7
Goals: Chelsea Cole 85. Subs: Chels Moses 8 (Hazard, 62), Lampard (Mikel, 81), Terry (Mata, 89). Stoke Owen 6 (Adam, 64), Etherington 7 (Kightly, 72), Jones 7 (Crouch, 75). Booked: ChelS Oscar, Luiz. Stoke Adam. Man of the match Mata. Match rating 5/10. Possession: Chels 60%. Stoke 40%. Attempts on target: Chels 4. Stoke 3. Referee M Oliver (Northumberland). Att 41,143.