Time was on Chelsea's side as Marcos Alonso's free-kick earned a 1-0 Premier League win over Southampton.
Antonio Conte says time is running out in the title pursuit, even if Manchester City slip up, and said the clear leaders had been lucky with late goals. But the Blues benefited at Stamford Bridge on Saturday, as more than the advertised minimum two minutes of first-half stoppage time had elapsed when Alonso curled in.
Conte, sent off against Swansea and fined £8,000 for misconduct, had been complaining about Saints' persistent fouling and time-wasting. But it was Mauricio Pellegrino who may feel aggrieved as Saints' winless run was extended to five games to keep them in a congested lower half of the table.
Chelsea have now won eight of their last 10 league matches, including five in a row at Stamford Bridge. But, as Conte pointed out on Friday, the gap to Manchester City had kept growing despite his side's run.
And City are looking to bolster their squad in January with the addition of a central defender.
Saints' Virgil van Dijk has been linked with City after his summer dalliance with Liverpool but after starting 11 successive games, the Dutchman was on the bench here.
Striker Alvaro Morata recovered from a back problem to be named as a Chelsea substitute. Michy Batshuayi was alongside him on the bench as Conte continued with a 'false nine' up front in Eden Hazard, with Willian and Pedro either side.
Chelsea's attacking triumvirate created plenty of problems for Southampton.
Willian played a one-two with Alonso in the left channel and steered a shot wide.
That chance came with Cedric Soares debilitated following a Gary Cahill challenge and the right wing-back was replaced by Mario Lemina soon afterwards.
Fraser Forster unconvincingly flapped at shots from Alonso, Cahill and N'Golo Kante.
Chelsea then fluffed a good chance when Pedro fed Hazard, who cut inside. His pass was just in front of Pedro and just short of Willian at the back post.
Conte wanted a penalty for Oriol Romeu's challenge on Andreas Christensen and then complained about time-wasting as Saints tried to take the flow out of the game.
Forster saved from Alonso and then a deflected Pedro effort hit the post before Chelsea struck.
Hazard turned and burst away from Maya Yoshida, who was booked for fouling the Belgian.
Willian sized up the free-kick but it was Alonso who took it, curling left-footed around the wall and into the bottom corner. Forster was caught by surprise as Alonso celebrated his fourth league goal of the season.
About two minutes 30 seconds of stoppage time had elapsed, half a minute more than indicated by fourth official Bobby Madley.
Manolo Gabbiadini had been an isolated figure as Saints' sole striker, but Charlie Austin had more of an impact as his replacement.
Austin might have scored with his first touch, latching on to Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg's through-ball before being denied by Thibaut Courtois.
Courtois next instructed Alonso to leave the ball and rolled it into his hands at the edge of the area. Hojbjerg appealed for handball, but no foul was given.
There were half-hearted penalty appeals for handball against substitute Cesc Fabregas, who, at the other end, slid the ball through Forster's legs from the tightest of angles. The ball rolled along the goal line.
The lead was fragile and Chelsea had chances to double it, but 1-0 proved enough as the Blues played out time.