Chelsea 2-1 Sunderland
Paolo Di Canio's reign as Sunderland manager began with a defeat at Chelsea that leaves The Black Cats deep in the fight to stay in the Premier League.
The Italian had the start he wanted when Cesar Azpilicueta's own goal gave Sunderland a surprise lead moments before half-time.
Sunderland's renewed optimism was short-lived, however, as Chelsea were in front 10 minutes after the interval as a result of another own goal, this time a deflection off Matt Kilgallon, and Branislav Ivanovic's touch on a David Luiz shot.
Di Canio, watching with his flamboyant gestures and constant interaction with his players and backroom staff, will provide a compelling spectacle in the tense closing phases of the season.
There is no doubt, however, that Sunderland are in serious trouble despite the effort and fight shown here. For all this, they look desperately short of attacking inspiration.
And Sunday's Tyne-Wear derby against Newcastle United at St. James' Park now assumes even greater importance.
Chelsea's interim manager Rafael Benitez can reflect on a highly satisfactory week, with an important victory to move the Blues up to third in the Premier League, following on from wins against Manchester United in the FA Cup and Rubin Kazan in the Europa League.
Di Canio's entrance was understated, with a polite wave in response to a warm reception from Sunderland's fans and an embrace from John Terry as the Chelsea captain took his place on the substitutes' bench.
It was not long, however, before he was an animated figure in his technical area, in regular dialogue with his backroom team, bellowing instructions to his players and even giving defender Phil Bardsley a robust slap on the cheek at one point - a slap of encouragement, it should be stressed.
Sunderland acquitted themselves well in the opening half as they restricted Chelsea's chances, and then took the lead seconds before the break.
John O'Shea directed Adam Johnson's corner towards goal and Azpilicueta made a hash of his attempted clearance, sending a slice into his own net.
Benitez responded at the start of the second half with the introduction of Fernando Torres for Demba Ba, who struggled after a heavy challenge that earned Craig Gardner a booking which will rule him out of next Sunday's game at Newcastle.
It was a change that brought instant dividends as Chelsea drew level with another messy goal.
The striker, playing in a mask after suffering a broken nose, produced a surge of pace to find Oscar, whose shot ended in the net via Sunderland keeper Simon Mignolet and Kilgallon, who was debited with the own goal.
Chelsea were ahead after 55 minutes, with Ivanovic reacting quickly to divert Luiz's long-range shot out of the reach of Mignolet.
Sunderland struggled to recover from Chelsea's response and it was no surprise when Di Canio made his first change with 20 minutes left, sending on James McClean for Seb Larsson.
But there was to be no late rescue act as Di Canio was given an illustration of the task awaiting him as he attempts to preserve Sunderland's Premier League status.
Despite the defeat, the Black Cats remain outside of the bottom three but only on goal difference as 18th-placed Wigan picked up a point at QPR.
Chelsea interim manager Rafael Benitez:
"We needed to improve after the break obviously. The negative thing is we conceded a goal, the positive thing is we recovered and came back.
"In the last 15 minutes we were a bit under pressure, but after four games in eight days that has to be expected.
"Sunderland have a new manager, they were compact and organised so it was not easy to find space. Some players are a bit tired, but after so many games it is not easy and you have to change players."