Paolo Di Canio's first game as Sunderland manager ended in a 2-1 Premier League defeat in a game of three freak goals at Stamford Bridge.
Branislav Ivanovic scored the winner in the 55th, deflecting a David Luiz shot in with his heel.
Sunderland had led after Cesar Azpilicueta turned a corner into his own net just before the break.
But Chelsea drew level less than two minute into the second half when Matthew Kilgallon scored a bizarre own goal, and Ivanovic quickly completed the turnaround.
Rafa Benitez's side go third after a curiously sterile encounter, while the extent of Di Canio's task was made plain by Sunderland's woefully inadequate attempts to draw level in the second half.
After a week of hysteria about Di Canio's political views, the Italian emerged from the Stamford Bridge tunnel wearing a charcoal-and-lilac diamond pattern jumper that was more stamp-collector than fascist rabble-rouser.
Di Canio's main selection gamble was in starting Connor Wickham ahead of Danny Graham - though Graham's atrocious form made the move eminently sensible.
However, this looked much like the side left by Martin O'Neill; solid and hard-working but short on technique, pace and imagination.
Chelsea looked flat - unsurprisingly given this was their fourth game in eight days, but still had enough quality to dominate possession and create more openings.
Penalty appeals were turned down after Kilgallon challenged for a high ball with his arm up, while Ramires and Eden Hazard both put weak headers on target.
At the other end, Stephane Sessegnon put an early shot in the side netting before Adam Johnson pinged a 20-yarder into Luiz's face.
It was pretty dry stuff, but in the final minute of the first half Sunderland went in front as the new manager brought a change of luck to the dugout.
Johnson, whose awful season after a £10m move from Manchester City summed up O'Neill's failure, delivered an excellent corner that John O'Shea flicked on and Azpilicueta, trying to clear, diverted into the top of his own net.
But Sunderland's luck could not hold.
Demba Ba went off at half-time with an injury, and his replacement Fernando Torres - who has quietly enjoyed a fine run of late - made an instant impact.
Torres charged through the left channel and squared for Oscar, whose heavy touch allowed Simon Mignolet to charge down his shot - but the ball ricocheted off Kilgallon's heel and rolled agonisingly into the net past the wrongfooted Danny Rose.
Another deflection saw Chelsea go in front. Luiz shot from the edge of the box and Ivanovic - perhaps inadvertently - diverted the ball past Mignolet with his right foot.
From that point Sunderland were a beaten side - the last 40 minutes of toil brought just a Johnson shot wide as the failings that hamstrung O'Neill's reign spoiled Di Canio's debut.
Sunderland may yet stay up - but anyone hoping for an instant transformation under Di Canio was left disappointed.
MAN OF THE MATCH
David Luiz (Chelsea) - Fantastic distribution from the Brazilian who more than made up for the odd defensive lapse with his wonderful range of passing.
CHELSEA: Cech 7, Azpilicueta 7, Luiz 8, Ivanovic 7, Bertrand 6, Ramires 7, Mikel 6, Oscar 5, Mata 6, Hazard 6, Ba 6... Subs: Lampard N/A, Benayoun N/A, Torres 7.
SUNDERLAND: Mignolet 7, Bardsley 5, O’Shea 7, Kilgallon 6, Rose 6, N’Diaye 4, Gardner 5, Larsson 5, Johnson 6, Sessegnon 6, Wickham 6... Subs: Colback N/A, McClean 5.