Premier League - Lampard keeps Chelsea in race
The veteran midfielder was the beneficiary after Fernando Torres's stunning overhead kick crashed off the crossbar and straight at Lampard, who merely had to stay where he was for the ball to ricochet in off him.
It gave Chelsea a deserved win - but the scoreline would have been very different had a quartet of controversial penalty decisions been seen differently by referee Phil Dowd.
Torres, Juan Mata and Nicklas Bendtner were all denied what appeared to be clear-cut spot kicks, with Torres on the wrong end of two decisions in the box - the second of which earned him a yellow card for diving.
Yet despite the drama, Chelsea were decent value for a win that keeps their distant title hopes alive.
Martin O'Neill's Sunderland, meanwhile, can leave London with their heads held high after another lively display, and will count themselves unlucky not to have grabbed a point through a string of late chances.
The Blues started the match with prospective new signing Gary Cahill watching his new team-mates from the stands just hours after passing his medical, but it was the away side who got the first look at goal.
Stephane Sessegnon's glorious dribble up the right saw him evade three Chelsea players and put in a superb ball across the six-yard box to James McClean, but Jose Bosingwa's desperate lunge did just enough to deflect McClean's attempt off target.
The near-miss sparked the hosts into action, with Lampard getting in a decent shot after a corner just two minutes later that looked goalward-bound until Matt Kilgallon - who later went off with a bad injury - dived in the way to block its path.
Chelsea's early dominance paid quick dividends as they scored in the 13th minute after Torres registered what is sure to go down as the most spectacular assist of the season.
Mata's blistering run up the right flank allowed him to put in an excellent cross to Torres at the far post, and with his back to goal the striker tried an overhead kick from seven yards out. It was a magnificent effort that would have been a stunning way to end a 13-hour goal drought for club and country, but the ball crashed against the bar instead of finding the net.
Luckily for the hosts it ricocheted directly at Lampard, the ball bouncing off his shins and over the line to give Chelsea the lead. The goal might have been one of the midfielder's worst, but it made him just the third player after Alan Shearer and Thierry Henry to score in 100 different Premier League matches.
Chelsea continued to dominate the half, with Mata's free kick drawing a solid save from Simon Mignolet at the bottom-right corner and Torres seeing a goal-bound header cleared away desperately by Kilgallon; yet Sunderland clung on and had the odd chance, with Sessegnon's through-ball to Bendtner setting up the Dane to drag his first-time shot just wide of the left upright.
The second half began at a steady pace as both sides looked determined to remain patient on the ball, with Torres finding the side netting six minutes after the restart.
And within moments the course of the match was changed four times in 10 minutes as Dowd resolutely refused to give a string of penalties.
First, both Torres and Mata appeared to be brought down in the box as Chelsea looked for a way through.
Then, just two minutes later, Bendtner appeared to be barged in the back and sent to the turf by Ashley Cole, but once again Dowd waved play on, sparking fury among the Sunderland players.
Dowd was probably evening things up over the two decisions, but Bendtner looked very hard done by - yet Torres looked even unluckier with 25 minutes left as he was tripped by Phil Bardsley in the box, only to earn himself a booking for diving.
With passions running high the rest of the game was played at a blistering pace, with Michael Essien making his first appearance in seven months and coming close to bagging a goal as he shot over from a tight angle on the left.
Chelsea had been dominant, but in the final 10 minutes it was all Sunderland as McClean, Bendtner and sub Craig Gardner all missed gilt-edged chances to steal a point.
Somehow, Chelsea survived to clinch all three points, while the fans trailed out of Stamford Bridge unable to comprehend how such a lively match had witnessed only one goal.