After 660 minutes of trying and failing to get a goal, Paul Lambert’s side found a way past one of the best defences in world football.
Carles Gil shimmied round Oscar and delivered an inch-perfect cross. Jores Okore rose at the far post and nodded the ball past Thibaut Courtois.
Still, it was not enough to stop Chelsea. Suppose that is another punchline of sorts. You wait 11 hours for a goal and still get beat. It is tough being a Villa fan these days.
Jose Mourinho enjoyed his first victory at Villa Park at the sixth attempt thanks to a thunderous response by Branislav Ivanovic.
As a defender, perhaps he felt personally slighted that English football’s worst attack had got the ball over the line against him.
Twenty minutes after Villa stunned their supporters into jovially singing ‘We score when we want’ the Serbian went down the other end and won the three points for Chelsea.
In the 68th minute, Cesar Azpilicueta advanced down the left and was only partially stopped by Okore. The Danish defender then failed woefully with a clearance, allowing Azpiliceuta to dig out a cross.
Fabian Delph missed the ball but Ivanovic did not, striking a magnificent half-volley with his left foot into the net before Brad Guzan had time to think.
Mourinho, who had remained in his seat throughout, stood up to celebrate. The travelling fans clambered over themselves to do likewise with the mound of Chelsea players cheering in front of them.
An important victory clinched on the path to what Chelsea hope is a first Premier League title since 2009-10.
The win had appeared certain when Eden Hazard continued his fine form by opening the scoring in the eighth minute.
Oscar ran down the right and played the ball across to Willian, who took a touch and fed a delightful pass into the area. Hazard galloped on to it and swept a first-time finish into the corner.
Given Villa’s impotence in attack – sharing the lowest goal total of any team from the Premier League era at this stage of the season – that seemed to be that.
Lambert had made the call to drop Christian Benteke following his poor showings in recent weeks, even if the Belgian was the last to score in a claret and blue shirt in the 1-1 draw with Manchester United on December 20.
Gabby Agbonlahor started instead, in the aim of giving more mobility and speed for counter attacks. It nearly went right when he connected with Delph’s cross, only to head over.
He had not heeded the signs carrying arrows held aloft by some fans. Handed out by a betting firm known for their ambush marketing before kick-off, the idea was to point the way to goal for their players.
Gradually though, Villa found a foothold and produced a few moments to worry John Terry and his fellow defenders.
Shortly before interval it became tetchy on the sidelines when Didier Drogba fell to floor holding his head after an aerial duel with Ciaran Clark. Lambert removed his coat and exchanged words with the rival dugout.
At Stamford Bridge earlier in the season the Villa manager was infuriated by Mourinho’s attempts to shake his hand before the final whistle. Here, the Portuguese stayed in his seat.
Three minutes after the interval, Villa found that longed-for breakthrough. It really was some skill by Gil, who enjoyed another good game since his £3.25million move from Valencia.
But Villa sunk deeper after their goal, inviting Chelsea pressure. Willian twice went close with slapped shots from range, the second requiring the slenderest of fingertips from Guzan to divert wide.
Another blue attack reasserted the visitor’s authority.
As soon as Chelsea retook the lead, Benteke emerged – replacing Agbonlahor. He had been readying himself in any case but was unable to alter the course of the match.
At the end Mourinho strode across the turf he had finally conquered and beckoned to his supporters to keep making noise. Much more of this and the title will be theirs.