The Blues made it three wins in a row thanks to a deflected shot by John Terry and a special goal by Daniel Sturridge, but on a ground where we have a good record but find it hard to keep a clean sheet, our grip on the game slipped a little and Sunderland pulled one back in stoppage time at the end.
There was still plenty to be pleased about. The tem`po of the play was good, Juan Mata much to do with that, and Raul Meireles especially impressed on his debut as he brought a freshness and good use of the ball to the anchor midfield role.
The Sturridge goal, the type of finish that must come off frequently on the training pitch when a player is on form but executed in a game that is still finely balanced guaranteed it will be one of the highlights of the season.
Meireles made his debut, coming in for John Mikel Obi who was rested after flying to Madagascar and Bangladesh for international games. There was a first start for Mata, in for Florent Malouda on the left of the front three and Sturridge returned from suspension and was handed the equivalent position on the right.
Nicolas Anelka was centre-forward with Fernando Torres on the bench. David Luiz returned from a thigh injury to also be among the subs, as was Oriol Romeu who was another debutant when he came on in the second half.
Sunderland loan-signing Nicklas Bendtner came in for Asamoah Gyan on the day the Ghanaian's switch to the Middle East was announced. John O'Shea was injured so Phil Bardsley moved from left to right-back with Kieran Richardson coming in on the left and Titus Bramble into the centre for Anton Richardson.
A promising move down Chelsea's left led to Ashley Cole tackled in the Sunderland area inside the first minute, and the same player's cross was poorly dealt with soon after with Sturridge almost getting a shot in.
Sunderland were denied a shot on goal as Ivanovic was fouled when covering back after Terry had been beaten by Bendtner in the air.
Chelsea had a good spell around the 10-minute mark with Mata showing good strength inside the opposition area to almost tee-up Sturridge but Sunderland should have scored a minute later when there was disorganisation in dealing with a free-kick. Two Sunderland players found themselves free beyond the Blues defence as the ball was played over the top. It was Bendtner who headed wide.
Chelsea survived to take the lead and it was a free-kick of our own that led to the goal. Anelka was fouled as Wes Brown stuck a leg out. Mata's carefully placed shot from 20-yards out rebound back off the post but the Blues kept the pressure on until the home team cracked. Sturridge found Terry out wide and the skipper almost picked out Anelka's near-post run. It came back to JT who this time hammered it from a tight angle. A Sunderland player back on the line could only deflect it high into the net. There were 17 minutes gone.
Colback was perhaps relieved to only see a yellow card when he wiped out Ramires from behind five minutes later. The Brazilian was okay after treatment. Chelsea were now asking more questions of Steve Bruce's side. Ramires found Mata who played it forward to Anelka but the shot cleared the bar.
Chelsea passing was crisp and Meireles and Anelka had goalbound shots blocked in quick succession. We were looking capable of a goal with every attack and Sturridge would have scored had he gambled when Sunderland carelessly let a Boswinga cross fly across their six-yard-box.
The one disappointment was that Sunderland keeper Mignolet hadn't been tested more. Cech made just one save in the first half, late on from Sessegnon and Ivanovic deserves credit for a strong header that prevented an attempt on goal in stoppage time.
The Blues were on the front foot from the off although would not keep the domination up. Cole, whose was found in space by the passing of Meireles throughout the game, had a shot deflected over before Sturridge's wonderfully audacious finish four minutes in.
Meireles collected the ball to release the England Under 21 man with a pass over the defence. Sturridge kept Wes Brown behind him and as Mignolet closed, he spun and rolled the ball past the keeper with the back of his heel. There were four possible outcomes: the gently travelling ball would be cleared before the line; It would hit the post; It go just wide, but happily it proved to be the fourth one, the shot creeping over the line just inside the post.
Chelsea took the foot off the peddle immediately after the 2-0 goal lead had been establised and had to do some defending. We found it hard to regain the initiative totally after that.
Sturridge's first game of the season came to an end on 61 minutes with Malouda introduced who forced a save from the keeper with his first touch.
Sunderland made changes too and went to a front two with the introduction of Connor Wickham who looped a header onto the roof of Cech's net as the home side continued of enjoy a better second half. The locals, who had been grumbling throughout, were now back behind their team.
Torres came into the game on 73 minutes and it was for Mata who had been on the right since Malouda's arrival.
It was Malouda who nearly created a goal when Ramires sprinted onto a chipped ball into the area but the keeper did well enough. There came a second debut of the day with Romeu on for Anelka, Meireles asked to play further forward and Ramires who enjoyed a good afternoon, further wide.
The Sunderland head of steam seemed to have lost pressure by the last 10 minutes but then substitute Ji Dong-Won swept the ball inside the Chelsea far post after Bendtner had laid off a Larsson pass with Chelsea stretched.
The game was by now inside stoppage time but it was alive again and there was still some aerial defending to do by Terry, Ivanovic and co, and a catch by Cech before a seventh victory in a row at the Stadium of Light could be celebrated.
Chelsea (4-3-3): Cech; Bosingwa, Ivanovic, Terry (c), Cole; Ramires, Meireles, Lampard; Sturridge (Malouda 61), Anelka (Romeu 78), Mata (Torres 74).
Scorers Terry 17, Sturridge 50.
Booked Boswinga 90+1
Unused subs Hilario, David Luiz, McEachran, Kalou.
Sunderland (4-4-1-1): Mignolet; Bardsley (Elmohamady 61), Bramble, Brown, Richardson; Larsson, Cattermole (c) (Wickham 65), Colback, Sessègnon (Ji 81); Gardner; Bendtner.
Unused subs Westwood, Vaughan, Turner, McClean.
Scorer Ji 90+1
Booked Colback 23.
Referee Lee Probert
Watch the full game on Chelsea TV from 6pm on Sunday.