It has reached that point in the season when the Premier League table starts to take shape, with those teams at the top eking out hard-fought victories over those at the bottom.
Nowhere was this more true than at Ewood Park, where Chelsea came from behind to snatch a 2-1 win through a late header from Branislav Ivanovic.
In the same fixture last season, Carlo Ancelotti’s side limped to an unconvincing 1-1 draw – seen then as a sign of their title aspirations fading – and the three points earned on Saturdaywill represent a huge morale boost for a team whose flying start to the campaign has been long forgotten.
The key to any title contender’s season is the way they perform without their best players. While Frank Lampard’s absence has triggered a slight downturn in form, the Blues have responding well to September’s defeat at Manchester City with three wins from four league games.
Arsenal also left it late to grab all three points at home to West Ham, in a game which was beginning to look very reminiscent of Arsene Wenger’s first league defeat at the Emirates Stadium three-and-a-half years ago.
Some resolute defending and an inspired performance from Rob Green almost earned West Ham their first away shut-out of the season, but Alex Song popped up to turn in a pinpoint Gael Clichy delivery two minutes from time.
These are not the games which will determine West Ham’s survival, but they are the games which will shape Arsenal’s title challenge, and Song’s winner could prove crucial in terms of momentum.
Manchester United remain third after seeing off the surprisingly-weak challenge of Tottenham at Old Trafford, although the clinching goal will be talked about for some time.
Mark Clattenburg has previous with Spurs, of course, but that in itself would have been no reason for him to disallow Nani’s effort. He simply made a hash of the initial decision and seemed almost afraid to admit the original error, even if in retrospect it seems like the only logical course of action.
At least Harry Redknapp can use that flashpoint to avoid a bigger problem – the complete lack of a cutting edge in the absence of Spurs’ attacking triumvirate of Crouch, Defoe and van der Vaart.
Manchester City have clung onto fourth spot despite slipping to a 2-1 defeat at an impressive Wolves side far removed from the negativity of last season.
Nenad Milijas and Dave Edwards scored the goals after Emmanuel Adebayor had given City the lead from the penalty spot, but the hosts had plenty of other chances to score and could have really embarrassed their opponents had they been more clinical.
There has been talk this week of Antonio Cassano moving to City after his shock release by Sampdoria, but Roberto Mancini should be looking at solidifying his back four rather than bringing in another forward.
West Bromwich Albion missed the chance to leapfrog Mancini’s side on Monday night, giving themselves a mountain to climb by going down to nine men within half an hour against Blackpool.
As harsh as Pablo Ibanez’s 9th-minute dismissal was, Gonzalo Jara can have no excuses after leaping two-footed into a challenge with Luke Varney, and that should have been that.
But after Varney added to Charlie Adam’s early penalty, Blackpool almost let the visitors snatch an unlikely point. Youssuf Mulumbu’s sweet strike halved the deficit, and the game might have ended 2-2 had a late, late chance fallen to anyone but Steven Reid, but the Irishman failed to add to his 6 goals in over 100 Premier League games.
Newcastle are now a mere point behind the side they beat to the Championship title last season, courtesy of a crushing 5-1 victory over Sunderland in the Tyne-Wear derby.
After conceding only seven goals in their nine previous games, Steve Bruce could be forgiven for thinking his defence was doing a reasonable job, but the Black Cats’ back-line was conspicuous in its absence as Shola Ameobi netted twice and Kevin Nolan fired home his first Premier League hat-trick in more than 10 years of asking.
Everton continued their good form of late with a 1-0 win against Stoke, Yakubu scoring the only goal when he reacted quickest after Tim Cahill struck the post.
It was a timely strike for the forward, who has struggled for goals after a poor World Cup with Nigeria, but another shot-shy frontman felt he should also have put his name on the scoresheet.
Stoke’s Turkish frontman Tuncay found the net again one week after his stunner against Manchester United, but referee Lee Probert harshly ruled it out for a push.
The defeat at Goodison Park left Stoke 16th, two points behind Fulham after the Cottagers cruised to a 2-0 win against a lacklustre Wigan outfit.
Clint Dempsey scored both goals for the hosts, doubling his tally for the season, as Fulham opened up a gap between themselves and the bottom three.
They are one of five teams currently on 12 points, and Liverpool joined that group with a scrappy 1-0 win at Bolton’s Reebok Stadium.
Maxi Rodriguez scored the only goal of the game to ease some of the pressure on Reds boss Roy Hodgson, but it will take more than the odd 1-0 win for him to win over the Anfield faithful.
The final game of the weekend was a surprisingly-tame second-city derby between Birmingham and Aston Villa.
An uneventful goalless draw hardly provided the best advert for the upcoming Carling Cup quarter-final between the two sides, with the stop-start nature of the game ensuring neither side could get a real rhythm going. Maybe the cup tie will be different.
Team of the week (4-2-3-1)
Green (West Ham); Ivanovic (Chelsea), Hughes (Fulham) Stearman (Wolves), Salcido (Fulham); Heitinga (Everton), Clark (Aston Villa); Nolan (Newcastle), Edwards (Wolves), Dempsey (Fulham); Benjani (Blackburn)