|Drogba was crowned African Footballer of the Year in the run-up to the match [GALLO/GETTY]
Didier Drogba celebrated being crowned African Footballer of the Year as he fired Chelsea back to the top of the English Premier League with two second-half goals in a 4-1 win over fierce London rivals West Ham.
And in the late kickoff, Arsenal kept pace with the leaders – just – when in-form striker Nicklas Bendtner netted an injury-time winner in a 2-1 victory at Hull City.
Alex set Chelsea on their way with a 16th minute header and while former Blue Scott Parker levelled for their East End opponents in the 30th minute, the home side sealed the points through second half goals from Drogba and Florent Malouda.
Two goals by Roman Pavlyuchenko helped fourth-placed Tottenham Hotspur maintain their push for European Champions League qualification with a 3-1 home defeat of Blackburn Rovers.
Aston Villa, one of Tottenham's rivals for fourth spot, lost ground with a 0-0 draw at Stoke City.
Fifth-placed Manchester City play at Sunderland on Sunday, when Manchester United can go top if they beat Fulham – although they will have played a game more than Chelsea.
Arsenal are level with the Blues on 64 points but stay second on goal difference, and have played a game more.
They opened the scoring through Andrei Arshavin but Hull equalised with a Jimmy Bullard penalty until Bendtner intervened late on.
Burnley look increasingly likely to make a quick return to the Championship (second division) after a morale-sapping 2-1 home defeat by fellow strugglers Wolverhampton Wanderers.
Bolton Wanderers thrashed Wigan Athletic 4-0 and Birmingham City recovered from a two-goal deficit to draw 2-2 with Everton.
Chelsea's FA Cup victory over Stoke City last weekend had silenced talk of a growing crisis in West London that followed successive defeats to Inter Milan and Manchester City.
Yet while Chelsea were securing their place in the semi-finals of the competition, they relinquished their standing at the head of the table to Manchester United, who took advantage of the Blues' break from league duties.
The match against West Ham was Chelsea's chance to reclaim the position they have occupied for most of the season although their preparations were hampered by an injury to stand-in keeper Hilario.
The Portuguese was drafted in for a rare run in the side after Petr Cech was injured against Inter but pulled his groin against Stoke, paving the way for Ross Turnbull to make his first league appareance for the club since his summer move from Middlesbrough.
Recent form suggested that Turnbull would get little chance to stake his claim for more regular action with West Ham hitting a new low with last weekend's home defeat to Bolton.
That left Gianfranco Zola's side on the fringe of the bottom three and the manager admitted before this game they needed 10 points from their last 10 games to have a chance of staying up.
Having failed to win away from home since the opening day of the season, the odds were stacked against the Hammers making a dent in that target at Stamford Bridge.
West Ham were never going to get many chances and it quickly became clear that Brazilian Ilan's early miss could prove costly when his fellow Brazilian Alex put Chelsea ahead three minutes later.
A half cleared corner was returned to Florent Malouda whose floated cross picked out the unmarked Alex and the centre back directed a powerful header beyond Hammers keeper Rob Green.
Backed by that early strike, Chelsea began to dominate and should have put the game out of the visitors' reach long before half time.
That meant West Ham were always within touching distance and Zola's side levelled in spectacular style when Parker latched onto a loose ball 30 yards out and sent a dipping volley beyond Turnbull to equalise.
The Hammers finished the first half with much more confidence but that quickly faded after the break when Drogba headed home in the 56th minute from Malouda's cross.
Malouda than claimed a deserved third when he moved inside to collect Drogba's lay-off and finished left footed past Green.
Drogba completed the scoring in the final minute, turning home from close range to collect his 27th goal of the season.