Torres had gone 903 minutes without a goal for Liverpool, Spain and Chelsea
By Phil McNulty
Chief football writer at Stamford Bridge
Fernando Torres finally broke his scoring duck for the reigning champions in a victory that maintained Chelsea's flickering challenge for the Premier League title - and left West Ham rooted to the bottom of the table.
The £50m British record capture from Liverpool emerged as a late substitute to end a barren scoring sequence stretching over 903 minutes to help keep Carlo Ancelotti's side in second place, six points behind Manchester United with four games left to play.
The Spanish striker - making his 14th Chelsea appearance since his January move - was mobbed by elated team-mates as he turned in a rain-soaked penalty area with six minutes remaining to send a left-foot finish past keeper Robert Green.
Torres' goal was sandwiched in between a close-range finish from Frank Lampard seconds before the interval and a spectacular strike from Florent Malouda, with an unwitting assist from Torres, in stoppage time.
Ancelotti expects quick Torres improvement
The storm clouds gathered over Stamford Bridge as well as West Ham's Premier League survival hopes, with a torrential downpour making the surface treacherous and thunder and lightning providing a spectacular backdrop, forcing the floodlights to go out for a short spell.
Chelsea deserved their win, with David Luiz hitting the bar and substitute Nicolas Anelka having a shot scrambled off the line after he was played in by Torres at the start of his impressive 14-minute cameo.
West Ham, however, will rue a succession of missed opportunities to claim a precious point, especially a simple chance turned wide by substitute Robbie Keane after 73 minutes with Chelsea protecting a one-goal advantage.
The day belonged to Torres, though. Relief and joy were clear on his face, and on those of his team-mates and coach Ancelotti, when that elusive goal finally arrived in front of the Matthew Harding Stand.
Chelsea are still rank outsiders to chase down United, with a visit to Old Trafford to come, but this win will keep hope flickering while West Ham now face an increasingly desperate battle to survive, especially as they were robbed of newly crowned Footballer of the Year Scott Parker because of an Achilles tendon injury.
Torres was once more confined to the bench as Didier Drogba led Chelsea's attack, and almost set up the opening goal inside two minutes when he played in Malouda, who should have done better than give Green the chance to make the block.
Chelsea enjoyed almost total supremacy in possession and territory in the opening exchanges, but West Ham survived to flourish and fashion opportunities of their own as the half progressed, with Freddie Sears prominent.
He did well to hold off Ashley Cole in a straight race down Chelsea's right flank, crossing for Jonathan Spector to test keeper Petr Cech with a header low down at his near post. Sears then almost broke the deadlock himself, only for Cole to clear his close-range effort off the line.
West Ham looked to have survived to see out a satisfying opening period - a satisfaction snatched away as Lampard gave Chelsea the lead seconds before the interval. It was a goal perfectly simple in its creation, Drogba playing in Cole, whose cross was an open invitation for Lampard to fire high past Green from 12 yards.
As the storm rattled around Stamford Bridge, some of the floodlights were affected and the pitch was close to unplayable in part.
Ancelotti and Avram Grant - his counterpart and predecessor - were both forced to make changes to compensate for what looked like serious injuries early in the second half. Michael Essien collapsed holding his knee and was replaced by Yossi Benayoun, while West Ham's Mark Noble was stretchered off, Keane coming on.
Grant confident Hammers can survive
Chelsea continued to be in the ascendancy, with Lampard forcing a fine save from Green and Luiz - who had received treatment after being flattened by Cech in an accidental collision - striking the bar from 25 yards with West Ham's keeper well beaten.
West Ham, however, were still posing a real threat as Demba Ba and Keane both forced saves from Cech in the space of seconds, pursuing what could have been a priceless point.
Their best chance of the game came and went with 17 minutes left when Spector looked to have presented Keane with the simplest of finishes, only for the Spurs loanee to sweep a careless effort wastefully wide.
It prompted Ancelotti to send on Torres for Drogba and he was soon involved, setting up a chance for Anelka, whose effort was cleared off the line by the scrambling Danny Gabbidon.
Torres was in electrifying form, even defying the weather conditions to score his first goal in 732 minutes as a Chelsea player as he hit the ball, which which appeared to be stuck in a puddle, on the turn with his left foot after being played in by Anelka and curling it beyond Green.
And Malouda's thunderous finish, which came about when Anelka misread Torres' pass and the ball fell to the French international, proved the final flourish in a satisfying Chelsea win.
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