Both sides had a man sent off in the first half with Chelsea’s Cesar Azpilicueta receiving a straight red for a studs-up challenge on Mile Jedinak but the numbers were evened up moments later when Damien Delaney was shown a second yellow for a pull back on Loic Remy.
It could easily have been nine-a-side at the break with Frazier Campbell and Cesc Fabregas involved in an ugly tangle as Azpilicueta headed for the tunnel but referee Craig Pawson – who had never shown a Premier League red card before today – opted only to caution the pair.
In John Terry’s 500th game as Chelsea skipper, it was Oscar who put the Blues en route to victory after just six minutes with a wonderful curling free kick which flew beyond Julian Speroni’s despairing right hand and into the top corner.
A magnificent second goal from Fabregas soon after the break gave the visitors breathing space. The Spaniard exchanged passes with Eden Hazard and Oscar before bursting into the area and sliding the ball beyond Speroni for his first Premier League goal in Chelsea colours.
But Chelsea did not have things their own way – especially in the first half – with Palace making life tough for the league leaders who were missing leading scorer Diego Costa.
And they set up a nervy finish for the leaders when Campbell netted from close range after good work from substitute Wilfried Zaha.
Campbell could easily have scored before Oscar’s opener but was denied first by Thibaut Courtois and then Azpilicueta. He had another chance moments after the Brazilian’s free-kick but could only put his lob onto the roof of Courtois’ net following a mistake by Gary Cahill.
After Oscar’s wonderful set-piece, Palace were right in the game as Neil Warnock’s side harried Chelsea all over the pitch.
And with the visitors reduced to ten men on 40 minutes following Azpilicueta’s lunge on Jedinak, they could have made life difficult for the leaders before a rush of blood from Delaney evened up the numbers.
The Republic of Ireland international conceded the free-kick which saw Oscar give Chelsea the lead and was cautioned on half-an-hour for pulling back Remy as the Frenchman turned him. A repeat offence on 43 minutes saw Delaney dismissed, much to the disgust of Warnock who must have thought he had a great chance of getting back on terms.
Fabregas’ goal within six minutes of the restart took much of the heat out of the contest with Nemanja Matic controlling things in midfield as Hazard and Oscar threatened to cut the Palace defence open on numerous occasions.
The Brazilian had a great chance to add to his tally on 68 minutes but opted to try his luck first time rather than take a touch and his tame effort was easily gathered by Speroni.
Hazard too could have got on the scoresheet but his curling effort from just inside the box went just beyond the far post.
Jedinak tried to get Palace back into the game with a long-range effort on 55 minutes but his shot was straight down the throat of Courtois.
Warnock threw on Zaha and Adlene Guedioura in an attempt to get back into the game with James MacArthur and Jason Puncheon making way but the Blues always remained in control.
They had a scare ten minutes from time but Cahill was on hand to make a superbly-timed challenge inside the Chelsea area to deny Yannick Bolasie as he bore down on Courtois’ goal.
Their persistence was rewarded right on 90 minutes when Campbell scored a deserved goal but the Blues – who threw on Didier Drogba for the closing moments – were able to see the game out.
Paul Merson’s verdict
“I thought the ref had an absolute blinding game with the red cards. I don’t know what he did wrong. They came out in the second half as 10 v 10 and there’s only one winner. Chelsea were keeping the ball for 40 passes at a time, patiently. Fabregas scored a phenomenal goal and he is somebody who is a phenomenal footballer. It was a good game, but Chelsea just shaded it.
“Palace played very well and if they carry on playing like that they will win games – but don’t blame the referee.”