Chelsea's Branislav Ivanovic celebrates with teammates after scoring against Aston Villa during their English Premier League match at the Stamford Bridge ground in London. (AP Photo)
Chelsea rode their luck to emerge with a second win in as many Premier League games on Wednesday after Branislav Ivanovic escaped a red card and then his marker to head them to a 2-1 win over Aston Villa.
Moments after the Serb had walked away with a caution after he appeared to elbow Villa striker Christian Benteke, the defender rose to power a free kick from Frank Lampard into the back of the net and apply a gloss to a lacklustre Chelsea display.
It was not the only decision that drew the ire of the Aston Villa dugout as, deep in stoppage time, John Terry parried the ball with a flailing arm, unseen by referee Kevin Friend.
That incident ensured a match, which came to life only when Benteke cancelled out an early own goal from Antonio Luna, ended with Chelsea chalking up their second home win of the campaign.
Goalkeeper Petr Cech made two excellent second-half saves from Andreas Weimann.
"I think in this moment, if we are here with a draw, it wouldn't be an unfair result," Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho told reporters. "They don't play a lot but they fight a lot. They create great difficulties.
"If Petr doesn't save that one (from Weimann) we probably don't get a point."
His Villa counterpart, Paul Lambert, laid the blame for the defeat squarely with the referee.
"I think we were done by two bad decisions," he said.
Chelsea were handed the opener on a plate. Oscar set Eden Hazard through down the left and the Belgian's side-footed finish was parried by Villa keeper Brad Guzan into the path of Luna, who, oblivious to the danger, bundled it into his own net.
The memory of last season's 8-0 demolition in the same fixture was perhaps still fresh in the visitors' memories as their desire to stay compact and be hard to break down meant they spent most of the early stages encamped in their own territory with little ambition to cast off the shackles.
Weimann was caught off-guard by a cross from the left that found him unmarked in the box on 20 minutes and a long-distance effort from Karim El Ahmadi that flew wide were rare bright spots for a Villa team who were demonstrating none of the enterprising counter-attacking football on view when they beat Arsenal 3-1 on the opening weekend.
There was little ambition on Chelsea's part, however, to cut loose. Mourinho's call for them to exhibit a ruthless streak and destroy teams had appeared to fall on deaf ears among his players.
While their stranglehold on possession was almost total, Mourinho's natural caution ensured the gameplan remained to choke Villa rather than go for the jugular.
The creative triumvirate of Oscar, Eden Hazard and Juan Mata were reunited after the latter sat out their opening win over Hull City, but while their movement was fluid and the passing patterns they wove were intricate there was little driving forward momentum.
Benteke ensured they paid the price with the leveller on the stroke of halftime. With 17 goals in 2013, the Belgian is unrivalled among the Premier League's sharp shooters and it was a typically powerful finish that dragged his side back into the match.
Gabriel Agbonlahor followed an injection of pace down the left with a low cross that found Benteke in space. He switched it from his right foot to his left and blasted home from 10 metres out for his third goal in two games this season.
Villa had great chances to go ahead in the second half with Agbonlahor sidefooting a good chance over and Cech saving his best to twice deny Weimann either side of Ivanovic's 73rd minute winner.
The final controversy however came in stoppage time when Villa were denied a clear penalty. Terry jumped to clear a cross from Delph, but caught the ball with his flailing arm.
As the Villa bench leapt up from their seats, Friend waved away their appeals.
With Fernando Torres left out of the squad the performance highlighted Chelsea's need for striking reinforcements and Mourinho confirmed a new offer for Manchester United's Wayne Rooney will be in the offing.
Yet with Chelsea playing United at Old Trafford on Monday, Mourinho said a renewed bid could wait.
"There is time to do things, we will do this later," he said. "In this period, we are going to be quiet."