An Oscar special and an Eden Hazard penalty earned Premier League leaders Chelsea a 2-1 win in a hard-fought west London derby with QPR at Stamford Bridge.
Striker Diego Costa returned following a four-game absence with his problematic hamstrings and showed few signs of rustiness as Chelsea took the lead through Oscar’s stunning strike.
Try as they might, Jose Mourinho’s men were unable to build on the lead and, after Hazard’s weak header, QPR broke to equalise through Charlie Austin’s improvised finish with 29 minutes remaining.
Chelsea had only previously dropped points this term in drawing at Manchester City and Manchester United; another draw in Mourinho’s first London derby with relegation-threatened QPR was almost unthinkable.
The Blues were saved when Eduardo Vargas bundled over Hazard 15 minutes from time and the Belgium playmaker netted from the penalty spot.
The win saw unbeaten Chelsea, who play Maribor in Champions League Group G on Wednesday, stay four points clear of second placed Southampton and, more significantly, took them nine ahead of defending champions Manchester City.
City play United, 13 points behind, at the Etihad Stadium on Sunday, so have a game in hand, but last season’s runners-up Liverpool are 12 adrift ahead of next Saturday’s clash with Chelsea at Anfield.
QPR fell back into the drop zone after briefly climbing out with last Monday’s defeat of Aston Villa.
Chelsea had failed to score in three of their previous four matches with QPR, so the return of Costa as one of eight changes from the midweek win at Shrewsbury was welcome, even though it meant Didier Drogba dropping to the bench after three goals in three games.
The Spain striker, scorer of nine Premier League goals in his previous seven games, showed few signs of the persistent hamstring problem which has so perplexed Mourinho as he set about terrorising the QPR defence in close quarters and with explosive runs in behind.
Costa teed up Oscar, who scuffed a shot wide, before finding Willian, whose cross was directed into the side-netting by Branislav Ivanovic, with the Serbian thumping the post in frustration.
Austin, the scorer of both goals in the defeat of Villa, was thwarted as he met David Hoilett’s cross as QPR briefly entered enemy territory before Leroy Fer’s hesitation allowed Chelsea to snuff out another visiting attack.
Cesc Fabregas won the ball midway inside QPR’s half and shot only to be denied by Rob Green as the visitors kept Chelsea at bay, but Mourinho’s men struck soon afterwards.
Filipe Luis had the ball down Chelsea’s left and play was switched by Fabregas, who ran with the ball, exchanged a one-two with Costa and then fed Oscar in the right side of the QPR area.
The Brazilian brilliantly hit a first-time shot with the outside of his right boot into the far corner for his fourth of the season.
The Blues have scored in 16 straight games – since drawing 0-0 with Norwich in May – and Costa, when fit, has been prolific since his arrival.
The 26-year-old, playing his first Chelsea game since the October 5 defeat of Arsenal, demonstrated his all-round contribution before having an effort blocked by Richard Dunne.
Willian shot at Green late in the first half and early in the second Costa came within inches of capitalising on Dunne’s back-pass to the QPR goalkeeper.
Hazard was on the receiving end of a verbal torrent from Mourinho for failing to anticipate Oscar’s through ball before the Belgian made amends by running at the QPR defence.
His pass for Willian was too heavy and the Brazilian had to check his run before crossing towards Hazard, who was unable to stretch to reach the ball.
Hazard bamboozled even himself in falling in the QPR penalty area and Mauricio Isla’s well-timed challenge on Costa frustrated Chelsea in the visiting box again.
Costa crossed to the far post and Hazard barely connected with a header, when Chelsea would have preferred that the latter had been at the far post.
And the miss was punished when Rangers equalised on the counter-attack.
Thibaut Courtois palmed Vargas’ shot from the right away, Fer mis-hit a volley from the edge of the area and Austin re-directed it in with his heel.
Sandro’s shot was deflected wide and Mourinho turned to Drogba, with Willian sacrificed, as the Blues switched to a 4-4-2.
Green saved an Oscar free-kick and Chelsea were given a lifeline when Vargas clumsily barged Hazard over as the Belgian charged into the box. Hazard converted, sending Green the wrong way.
Costa took his leave, with Andre Schurrle coming on in his place, as Mourinho reverted to one up front, but still QPR would not be subdued as Austin had an effort blocked by Gary Cahill.
Drogba’s appeals for a back-pass against Green were rejected as Chelsea held on.