West Ham United 1 Chelsea 3

Chelsea are still cruising towards the title following a convincing victory over a free-falling West Ham side that has now slumped to four straight defeats at Upton Park.

Having been scalded like a naughty pupil for his over-ebullient display in Saturday's victory over Birmingham City, Joe Cole was just one of headmaster Jose Mourinho's five changes as Claude Makelele, Asier Del Horno, Damien Duff, Didier Drogba and Geremi all returned to a Blues side that kicked off 2006, having amassed a massive 101 Premiership points in 2005.

With five defeats from their last eight outings, the injury-hit Hammers recalled Carl Fletcher and Yossi Benayoun after a 2-0 loss at Charlton Athletic that had seen Alan Pardew calling for his side to show the pre-Christmas exuberance and ambition that had brought them 26 points.

But there was little early opportunity for the East Enders to turn on the style against Mourinho's star-studded West End boys.

Indeed, as early as the third-minute Frank Lampard curled in a 30-yard free-kick that Ray Carroll was relieved to shepherd over his own crossbar at the expense of a corner.

And after Mickael Essien was stretchered away after finding himself, for once, on the receiving end of a crunching tackle meted out by Nigel Reo-Coker, Arjen Robben's close-range snapshot was brilliantly beaten away by the Hammers keeper.

Never mind the Blues' penalty area, with Robben and Duff threatening down the flanks plus Drogba and the newly-arrived Eidur Gudjohnsen probing through the centre, back-pedalling West Ham were happy just to get the ball up into the Chelsea half.

On 25 minutes, however, the inevitable Blues breakthrough arrived when Duff's long throw into the heart of the Hammers defence was inadvertently nodded down by the embarrassed Benayoun, who could only stand and watch ex-Hammer Lampard lash home a ten-yard volley to claim his 14th goal of the season.

And when Robben danced through the static home defence ten minutes before the break, only a wonderful low save from Carroll prevented the barnstorming Blues from doubling their lead.

Pardew was relieved to get back into the dressing room trailing by just a solitary goal.

But within just 22 seconds of the restart he was dancing along the touchline after Reo-Coker fed the hitherto anonymous Marlon Harewood, who sent his 12-yard shot looping up off the equally hitherto redundant Petr Cech, before getting to the goal-line first and slamming home his ninth goal of the campaign.

With a new-found belief percolating from the packed stands down on to the pitch, Lampard and Fletcher found their way into referee Howard Webb's book following one midfield dust-up too many.

Lampard's second half deteriorated yet further when, unmarked, he drilled his ten-yarder straight at the alert Carroll who beat the shot away.

As the hour-mark arrived, Mourinho sent on Hernan Crespo in a bid to regain the initiative and within seconds of stepping onto the stage, the Argentinian had rounded Carroll and slotted into an empty net after Drogba robbed Fletcher and invited Robben to release an inch-perfect pass.

The Chelsea substitute should have added to his eight-goal tally, but he curled another golden chance wide and then volleyed over from just three yards before retiring with a pulled hamstring.

Still the champions-elect were not finished, though, and while West Ham could take some heart from their second-half showing, Drogba put the result beyond doubt with ten minutes left when he raced behind Paul Konchesky and met Gudjohnsen's long-ball with a scorching low, angled 15-yarder which flew across Carroll before nestling in the far corner of the net.