A typically tight Chelsea visit to Loftus Road was heading for stalemate when with two minutes left on the clock, the sweetest of strikes from Cesc Fabregas won the day.
There had been odd chances at both ends before then, with Thibaut Courtois called upon to make the more difficult saves and Willian striking the post, but it was defenders largely on top. Then a mishit kick out by Rangers’ keeper Rob Green was pounced upon by Eden Hazard who combined with Oscar before teeing up the Spaniard to take the three vital points.
To add to the positives, both Nemanja Matic and Fabregas got through the game without picking up bookings which lifts the threat of a two-match suspension from over them.
Roman Abramovich was present to witness victory in the 700th match since he became owner.
Our fifth successive away win was only our second in 14 league visits to London W12 and it means four more are now needed from our seven games remaining to claim the crown.
In the end the decision over who replaced injured Diego Costa was a simple one as Loic Remy too was ruled out with a muscular injury following a kick in training yesterday.
Playing either side of Didier Drogba were Eden Hazard and Willian while in the three-man midfield, Ramires and Cesc Fabregas played ahead of Nemanja Matic, with Ramires having come into the side for Oscar.
The defence was unchanged with John Mikel Obi returning to the bench having recovered from knee surgery. Also among the subs was 18-year-old midfielder Izzy Brown who had flown back from Switzerland where he played in the UEFA Youth League semi-final on Friday.
QPR made one change, Karl Henry coming into their midfield for Niko Kranjcar, a switch they made during their midweek draw at Aston Villa.
In an important game for London’s highest and lowest-placed top-flight sides, it was Rangers who started the brighter but Charlie Austin fluffed an early shooting chance. Thibaut Courtois then had to drop on a low cross when the dangerous Matt Phillips had escaped down our right.
But then on six minutes Drogba won a corner to spark a minute of chaos in the Rangers defence. Fabregas, wearing a mask to protect the nose injured by Stoke’s Charlie Adam last weekend, played it over beyond the far post from where Branislav Ivanovic forced a save from Rob Green.
Willian returned the ball menacingly and it hit the near post, with the rebound then almost capitalised upon by Gary Cahill but the home side survived. Just!
Chelsea were increasingly finding our passing game and dominating the ball. A couple of long passes towards Drogba were dealt with uneasily by the Hoops central defence. Matic had a shot blocked after a smartly worked free-kick.
When QPR did get the ball down the other end and into our box, Cahill twice commanded the situation with strong headers. Our England international would continue to have a very good game.
The match was approaching midway through the first half and it was becoming a more even contest again. In blustery, sunny conditions Courtois came to catch another high ball into his box well but the keepers were not being asked to make saves.
One of the best Chelsea moves so far came when Hazard accelerated into space and Drogba crossed but Ramires, required to make a difficult, acrobatic contact, volleyed off-target.
Chelsea hadn’t got Hazard on the ball enough in the early stages but he was now starting to have an impact, although an advantage played by referee Andre Marriner after a foul by Sandro didn’t materialise and in hindsight, we would have preferred the free-kick.
On 37 minutes, Cahill, at the expense of a painful kick on the calf, cleared behind when Bobby Zamora threatened to make it first onto a John Terry pass, and two minutes before the break Courtois dived to keep out a firm 25-yard shot from Austin.
Chelsea were the last to threaten before the interval though. Ivanovic whipped in a trademark cross which missed Drogba and then unfortunately bounced up too high for Fabregas to keep his header at goal down.
The second period began with the game more open than at the conclusion of the first. Willian almost broke through but was denied by a last-ditch tackle before up the other end, a Phillips’ cross was allowed all way through to bend beyond the far post. Courtois then saved from Clint Hill.
Drogba had a snapshot over the bar after Ramires was tackled on the edge of the area and that was the Brazilian’s last action. He was replaced by compatriot Oscar with 10 minutes of the half played.
This was Oscar’s 150th Chelsea game and one of his first contributions was to take a corner after Green had needed to tip a deflected Ivanovic cross over his bar. Oscar’s delivery was flicked into the goalmouth but without the vital final touch. This was good pressure by Mourinho’s men.
Drogba was the first player booked for a foul on Sandro before Courtois pulled off the save of the game from Phillips, who had turned and shot from 12 yards out.
The Blues recovered to pin QPR back but without finding the killer pass in or around the area. Zamora levelled up the yellow card count when he brought down Azpilicueta who had nicked possession and was starting a break. There were 15 minutes left on the clock.
Sandro was booked for crudely flooring Oscar after his own mistake had put his side at risk. The game remained there for the taking and there was concern for Chelsea when Austin had two bites at the cherry following a corner. His first shot was blocked and his second was straight at Courtois.
Most inside Loftus Road were probably settling for a goalless afternoon when Green, who had not been asked to do a lot, skewed his intended kick upfield high and to the right. Hazard was there and attacked, exchanging passes with Oscar wide of the goal before picking out Fabregas just inside the area. The shot was low and true and unsaveable for the former England keeper as it flew into the bottom corner. It might have started with a mistake but fine football had finished it.
The Chelsea section went wild, Cesc lifted his mask in celebration of his fifth goal of the season and the chasing pack’s hopes of closing the gap were dashed. As against Everton, the long wait for the winner made it all the more enjoyable when it came as the team celebrated with the fans after the final whistle blew.
Chelsea (4-3-3): Courtois; Ivanovic, Cahill, Terry (c), Azpilicueta; Ramires (Oscar 56), Matic, Fabregas (Zouma 90+2); Willian (Cuadrado 80), Drogba, Hazard.
Unused subs Cech, F Luis, Mikel, Brown.
Scorer Fabregas 88
Booked Drogba 60
QPR (4-4-2): Green; Isla (Dunne 90+2), Onuoha, Caulker, Hill; Phillips, Sandro (Kranjcar 80), Barton (c), Henry; Austin, Zamora (Hoilett 83).
Unused subs McCarthy, Mitchell, Comley, Grego-Cox.
Booked Zamora 75, Sandro 78.
Referee Andre Marriner