On an emotionally-charged evening on Wearside football came second, and rightly so, as Bradley Lowery opened his Sunderland account against Premier League leaders Chelsea.
A touching pre-match display saw the Black Cats and the Blues unite to pay tribute to the brave youngster, with Jermain Defoe rekindling his special bond with Lowery who beat Asmir Begovic from the spot thanks to a little help from Diego Costa.
A proud evening for football before a Premier League ball was kicked, Sunderland battled resiliently and they were within touching distance of the interval when Chelsea opened the scoring through their first meaningful attempt on goal.
Pedro played a key role evading two defenders before Fabregas took up the mantle and drove into the heart of Sunderland’s defence, with a quick-fire one-two leaving Jordan Pickford unsighted as the Spaniard swept the ball into the bottom corner.
Sunderland responded positively and they saw more of the ball in the final third during the second period, but they were unable to draw level as their best opening saw Adnan Januzaj denied by Thibaut Courtois who also produced a stunning save to deny Patrick van Aanholt in added time.
Former Chelsea forward Fabio Borini featured for the first time since August as David Moyes tasked him with breaking Blue hearts once more, with the Italian heading into the game having scored five goals for the Black Cats against his former club.
Jan Kirchhoff and Januzaj were also named in the starting XI alongside John O’Shea as Sunderland matched Chelsea with three at the back.
Seb Larsson dropped to the bench as Steven Pienaar and Victor Anichebe missed out, with Didier Ndong unavailable due to suspension.
Former Black Cat Marcos Alonso mustered the opening effort on goal with just three minutes played, but the Spaniard was unable to keep a long-range effort on target as the ball sailed into the north stand.
Top scorer Costa was a menacing presence throughout the opening stages, but Lamine Kone set the tone with a towering header which sent the Spaniard crashing back down to earth.
That moment lifted the home support and they rallied their team from back to front as a sweeping move saw Billy Jones win their first corner of the match, but despite initially fumbling Januzaj’s dipping drive Courtois eventually handled the situation.
Januzaj and Jason Denayer were next to trouble the Chelsea backline, but after being picked out by his team-mate and driving into the box, the former curled his effort high and wide.
The Blues remained dangerous and when Alonso and Costa displayed a similarly telepathic understanding the deadlock was almost broken, with the latter volleying wide after combining with the defender.
Pickford was relatively untroubled during the opening 35 but he produced a majestic save ten minutes before the break as Pedro found space in the box, albeit from an offside position.
The England international had no idea a belated flag had been raised and somehow got the slightest of touches to deny the three-time UEFA Champions League winner.
Five minutes later Pedro was causing problems again, and this time Sunderland couldn’t stop him.
The Spaniard wriggled free of Jones and Januzaj before Fabregas took charge and exchanged a swift one-two with Willian before sliding a sublime finish into the bottom corner.
One minute of added time was signalled at the end of the opening period but when Costa burst into space and was sent tumbling by O’Shea the Blues were given a chance to add to their lead.
And they went within inches of doing so, Willian crashing a 20-yard free-kick onto the roof of the net before the half-time whistle ushered in a chance to regroup and plot a route back into the game.
Within seconds Sunderland almost had one as Defoe and Januzaj tore into opposition territory following a loose pass from David Luiz, but the Belgian was denied by his international team-mate Courtois one on one.
It was a lucky escape for Antonio Conte’s side but it shocked them back into life, and two minutes later Willian clattered the crossbar from a tight angle before Pickford denied Victor Moses.
A dizzying dribble from Costa followed but Pickford once again came up trumps, with the Spaniard denied after weaving one way and then the other on multiple occasions before pulling the trigger.
Two chances in two minutes followed but the Black Cats held firm to deny Costa once more, with a change seeing Larsson replace Kirchhoff as fresh legs were called upon to ease the pressure.
Donald Love also entered the fray before the hour mark replacing Jones who limped out of action.
And it was from this point onwards that Sunderland enjoyed their best spell of the game, with the front three of Januzaj, Borini and Defoe causing problems as Chelsea’s attacking flair wavered.
Borini saw an effort cannon off Alonso as the trio began to find time and space in the final third, with Defoe sneaking ahead of David Luiz to divert Djilobodji’s cross wide.
But despite ending the game camped in the final third, Sunderland just couldn’t find that decisive moment, with Courtois’ one-handed save somehow denying van Aanholt in the dying embers of the game as Chelsea claimed a tenth consecutive Premier League win.
Sunderland: Pickford, Jones (Love 58), Kone, Djilobodji, O’Shea, van Aanholt, Denayer, Kirchhoff (Larsson 55), Borini (Khazri 81), Januzaj, Defoe.
Subs not used: Mannone, Asoro, Maja, Honeyman.
Chelsea: Courtois, Moses (Ivanovic 90), Cahill, Luiz, Azpilicueta, Alonso, Kante, Fabregas, Pedro (Matic 75), Willian (Chalobah 88), Costa.
Subs not used: Begovic, Zouma, Loftus-Cheek, Batshuayi.