Chelsea capitalise on Spurs draw with Everton
The fightback enabled Chelsea to take advantage of Spurs' 2-2 draw with Everton at White Hart Lane where Gylfi Sigurdsson scored a late equaliser to rescue a point for the hosts in a pulsating game.
All three goals at Stamford Bridge were scruffy. Rafa Benitez's side went behind to a Cesar Azpilicueta own goal just before half-time but they were soon gifted an own goal of their own by Sunderland's Matthew Kilgallon following a lightning break by substitute Torres.
Defender Branislav Ivanovic then sealed victory for Chelsea in the 55th minute.
With 58 points from 31 matches, the European champions are ahead of Spurs on goal difference and also have a game in hand on their London rivals. Fifth-placed Arsenal are two points behind while Everton, in sixth, have 52.
Victory over Sunderland came in the same week Chelsea reached the FA Cup semi-finals by beating Manchester United 1-0 and edged closer to the Europa League last four by establishing a 3-1 lead over Rubin Kazan in their quarter-final first leg.
"Two days before the United game people said we were in a crisis, two hours before the game it was the end of the world and now we are in the top three again," interim manager Benitez told Sky Sports News.
With injury problems and because they are in the middle of a gruelling programme of five matches in 13 days, Chelsea have had to rotate their squad to keep the players as fresh as possible.
Demba Ba was forced off at half-time with an ankle injury after being on the receiving end of a heavy tackle and Torres came on to spark the Londoners into life against a Sunderland side playing their first game under new manager Paolo Di Canio.
The Spaniard, again wearing a mask to protect his broken nose, made an immediate impact by setting up Brazilian Oscar whose shot was deflected in off Kilgallon after Azpilicueta had messed up a goal-line clearance to give the visitors a surprise lead.
The Chelsea comeback was then completed by Ivanovic as he backheeled a mis-hit shot from fellow centre-half David Luiz into the net.
"In the first half we didn't start well," said Benitez. "We gave the ball away easily.
"But it was a very good reaction from the team in the second half, very positive. Fernando made an impact quickly, he was fresh and he was ready."
Earlier, Liverpool lost ground on the group chasing Champions League qualifying spots when they were held to a 0-0 home draw by West Ham United, leaving the Anfield club in seventh place with 49 points from 32 games.
West Ham are now six points clear of the drop zone in 12th position.
Newcastle United also pulled away from relegation trouble with a 1-0 win at home to Fulham thanks to Papiss Cisse's stoppage-time winner.
Victory lifted Newcastle to 13th with 36 points, a point behind West Ham.
Wigan Athletic remained in the relegation zone on goal difference after Shaun Maloney scored from a direct free-kick deep into stoppage time to earn a dramatic 1-1 draw with 10-man Queens Park Rangers.
Second-from-bottom QPR played most of the match a man down after the 21st-minute dismissal of Bobby Zamora for a high challenge on Jordi Gomez.
Rangers, though, took an 85th-minute lead with a glorious strike from Loic Remy who rifled a first-time shot into the net from 25 metres.
QPR have 24 points from 32 games, one more than bottom club Reading, while Sunderland are level on 31 points with Wigan having played one game more than Roberto Martinez's side.
League leaders Manchester United, who are 15 points clear, host second-placed Manchester City on Monday.
The fans were still taking their seats at White Hart Lane when Emmanuel Adebayor scored for Spurs with 34 seconds on the clock - the second fastest Premier League goal of the season after Robin van Persie's 31-second effort for Manchester United against West Ham in November.
The Togo striker stuck out his leg to meet a low cross from Jan Vertonghen.
Everton, whose dreams of playing in Europe's elite club competition next season are alive but becoming faint, did not let the early setback get to them and Phil Jagielka pulled one back in the 15th minute with a header.
The England defender rose high from a Leighton Baines corner and nodded the ball down through the legs of Spurs keeper Hugo Lloris.
Everton then went ahead in the 53rd minute through Kevin Mirallas who weaved his way through the defence to score for a second successive game after netting the winner in last weekend's 1-0 victory over Stoke City.
Moussa Dembele hit the bar for Spurs with a deflected shot before Adebayor also rattled the woodwork and the rebound gifted Sigurdsson his 87th-minute goal.
"We left it late which didn't give us a chance to go for the third [goal]," Spurs manager Andre Villas-Boas told ESPN television.
"We had to battle very hard to get the draw. We believe it is going to go down to the wire," he added, referring to Champions League qualification.