MATCH REPORT: WEST HAM UNITED 3 CHELSEA 1
The Blues slipped to defeat at Upton Park, throwing away a 1-0 half-time lead with a poor second-half display.
The home side were grateful to only be trailing by one goal at the break after we dominated the opening 45 minutes, but had only Juan Mata's 12th-minute goal to show for our efforts, his eighth of the season.
The introduction of Mohamed Diame at the break saw West Ham improve dramatically, and they equalised through Carlton Cole just after the hour mark.
With four minutes left to play, Diame drove West Ham in front from close-range, and our misery was compounded in added time when the substitute Modibo Maiga made it 3-1, pouncing on a loose ball after Cech had denied Matt Taylor.
Wednesday's Champions League clash with FC Nordsjaelland will hopefully bring about a reversal in fortunes, and it must, if we are to stand any chance of preserving our place in the Champions League.
Benitez, who took charge of the Blues for the first time on the road, made four changes from the side which drew 0-0 against Fulham on Wednesday night.
With Andy Carroll unavailable for the home side after sustaining a knee injury, West Ham United's attack was spearheaded by former Chelsea man Cole.
The opening stages of this London derby were dominated by simple passes going astray, with players from both sides culpable.
Fernando Torres was showing early signs of promise, looking comfortable in possession and running confidently at the West Ham defence, but with both teams having struggled to produce anything in the way of goalmouth action, Chelsea took the lead after 12 minutes.
Moses picked the ball up wide on the right before delivering a lovely pass into the path of the advancing Torres, and the Spaniard displayed great vision to pick out his fellow countryman Mata, who had ghosted into the penalty area unmarked and calmly stroked his effort into the bottom corner beyond Jussi Jaaskelainen.
The Hammers were looking vulnerable at the back, and shortly after we should have doubled our advantage when Ramires broke down the left and picked out Moses who was free inside the box, but the winger failed to find a proper connection and the hosts were able to clear.
It was a lacklustre start by Sam Allardyce's men, and the home supporters were beginning to vent their frustration.
As a West Ham corner came to nothing, the Blues again broke at speed; Mata fed Ramires, but the Brazilian, rather than seeking out Branislav Ivanovic, opted for Torres, who was crowded out and fired high over the bar.
In truth, we could been out of sight by the half-hour mark, and probably would have been but for too many poor decisions in the final third.
Hazard was unlucky with a rasping effort on the turn following decent work on the right of the penalty area by Cahill, while Mata was almost put clean through by the Belgian, only for his first touch to take it away from him.
West Ham were huffing and puffing without causing us too many serious problems, and while Kevin Nolan did have a goal ruled out following a foul by James Collins, it had been their only real attempt on goal.
It took a stunning save by Jaaskelainen to prevent Mata from doubling his tally for the afternoon five minutes before the break after Moses had beaten two defenders with a lovely piece of skill, and the home side appeared to be praying for the half-time whistle.
West Ham threatened to level in the closing minutes of the first half, and it came amid controversial circumstances.
After a hopeful punt was lumped forward, Petr Cech came to clear the danger, but as his punch appeared to come outside the box, the home fans appealed for a dismissal.
Martin Atkinson, to our relief, produced just a yellow card, and after the subsequent free-kick by Collins was blocked, Cech produced a stunning save to push Nolan's header over the bar.
Allardyce, clearly frustrated at his side's display in the opening 45 minutes, made a double substitution at the break, replacing James Tomkins and Gary O'Neill with Diame and Taylor.
Buoyed by the change, it was the Hammers who started the second half the stronger, with both Cahill and Azpilicueta forced into important blocks to deny Cole and Nolan respectively.
Cahill then required treatment having been kicked in the face by Cole as, once again, the defender put his body on the line in a bid to maintain our advantage.
Next it was Ivanovic's turn to keep us in front, clearing from a miss-hit Nolan effort as Cole looked set to pounce with the goal at his mercy.
The introduction of Diame, in particular, appeared to spark the home side into life, and the Senegalese midfielder was making his presence felt in the middle of the park.
West Ham's pressure eventually told just after the hour when Cole headed them level, and it was a goal, from a defensive point of view, which appeared to be preventable.
Jarvis twisted and turned out wide on the left before delivering a cross which deflected off Cahill, and as the ball dropped down, Cole, who looked to be climbing on Ivanovic, reacted quickest to head past Cech at the near-post.
Our advantage was almost restored instantly, however, when we went straight up the other end and were awarded a free-kick on the edge of the box.
Mata stepped up and curled a delightful effort beyond Jaaskelainen, but with the goalkeeper well beaten, the ball cannoned of his left-hand upright and away to safety.
Benitez opted to make our first substitution of the afternoon midway through the half, replacing Hazard with Oscar as the game began to open up.
Oscar looked to find Torres with a clipped ball over the top, but there was too much weight on it, while Mata had an effort blocked as he cut in from wide on the right.
Marko Marin was then introduced to the action, replacing Moses wide on the left in a straight swap as time began to ebb away.
It was the home side, though, who came closest to taking the lead, twice in quick succession.
Jarvis had the first chance, racing on to Noble's through-ball, but the winger dithered, and when he did eventually get his shot away, Cech was equal to it, palming his strike behind for a corner.
As the resulting delivery was swung into the box, Winston Reid rose highest, and as his header flew past a stranded Cech, Ashley Cole produced a marvellous clearance to keep the scores level.
With four minutes left to play, however, West Ham did make the breakthrough, leaving us with a mountain to climb.
The ball was worked into Cole inside the box, and as the striker used his power to hold off the challenge of Cahill, he rolled his pass into the path of the unmarked Diame, who in turn smashed his strike past Cech, sending the home fans wild.
The game, which we'd controlled throughout the opening half, had got away from us, and in stoppage time matters took a turn for the worse.
Modibo Maiga intercepted a clearance from Cole, before releasing Taylor. His shot was well saved by Cech, but the rebound fell invitingly into the path of Maiga who made no mistake from close-range, leaving us searching for a first league win since October.
West Ham United (4-1-4-1): Jaaskelainen; Demel, Collins, Reid, O'Brien; Tomkins (Diame h/t); O'Neil (Taylor h/t), Noble, Nolan (c), Jarvis; Cole (Maiga 87).
Unused substitutes: Spiegel, Spence, Fanimo, Moncur.
Scorers Cole 63, Diame 85, Maiga 90+1
Booked Noble 65
Chelsea (4-2-3-1): Cech (c); Azpilicueta, Cahill, Ivanovic, Cole; Mikel, Ramires; Moses (Marin 78), Mata, Hazard (Oscar 72); Torres.
Unused substitutes: Turnbull, Ferreira, Romeu, Bertrand, Piazon.
Scorer Mata 12
Booked Cech 44, Mikel 64
Referee Martin Atkinson