Fresh from a Conti Cup final defeat to fierce rivals Arsenal, the Blues ensured their title challenge remains on course after Guro Reiten's penalty, Jess Carter and Johanna Rytting Kaneryd gave them all three points. The result sees them move to within a point of Man Utd, who they face next. Arsenal also stayed in the race, as they beat Liverpool 2-0 at Meadow Park.
Albion, only 48 hours on from seeing Jens Scheuer depart as manager, failed to regularly test Zecira Musovic and wern't able to resist a fluid Blues' frontline. Reiten's early spot-kick gave a freezing Kingsmeadow crowd their first celebration of the night, before Carter added a second. Sam Kerr thought she had made it 3-0 before half-time after a sensational pass from Reiten but was denied by the offside flag.
Kerr should have killed the game in the second-half but Brighton's Lydia Williams somehow denied her from yards out with the goal gaping. But the Aussie did get in behind in the 70th minute to give Rytting Kaneryd a simple tap-in. Substitute Danielle Carter did get Brighton on the scoresheet with her fifth of the season late-on, nipping ahead of Musovic with a poachers' finish but the result was never truly in doubt.
Here are the key talking points.
Brighton gameplan undone by key penalty call
It looked a harsh call by the referee on Brighton to award Chelsea an early spot kick when Sam Kerr looked to have been cleanly challenged by Zoe Morse in the penalty area. It was a call that could have gone either way, but went against the visitors. Once Reiten then stroked the ball home, any danger of the Blues facing a nervy night seemed to evaporate.
Brighton had defended well in the opening ten minutes until that, Megan Connelly making an outstanding goalline clearance. But interim manager Amy Merricks' approach, understandably, depended on coming through the first half an hour unscathed.
Once Albion went a goal behind, their task shifted from difficult to incredibly tough and it took until after the hour for them to force a save from Musovic and Carter's goal was a well-worked move, albeit too late to impact the result. Had Albion reached half-time level this one could have been much tougher, but the early goal ensured it wasn't to be.
Carter marks return with crucial goal
Brighton weren't at their most adventurous but Chelsea still needed the crucial second goal for some breathing space and it came from an unlikely source. Jess Carter swept home from Reiten's low corner in the 21st minute to double the hosts' advantage.
Carter was omitted from the defence that struggled so much in the first half against Arsenal at the weekend but responded with an excellent display at left-back tonight, giving width to allow Reiten to drift infield and cause Albion problems.
Hayes will be expected to make changes again for the clash with Man Utd next up, but this display may well have convinced her that Carter should be in from the off.
Albion beaten but with defining games still to come
Brighton came into this one only 48 hours after shock news that head coach Jens Schbuer had left the club, after barely two months in the post. The difficult circumstances left Amy Merricks taking interim charge for the second time this season and Albion understandably looked a little shell-shocked.
They are in a real battle to secure their WSL status - sitting only two points clear of basement club Leicester - but this defeat won't be what decides their fate. Merricks needs to take points from games against Reading and Everton in the next month. In truth, this was always going to be tough.
Albion will need to work on retaining possession in midfield. Lee Geum-Min was constantly calling to receive the ball from teammates, only to be bypassed by long balls into the forwards. They did show gimmers here tonight, mainly through Lioness Katie Robinson's charges down the win, but need to put in more cohesive displays to pull away from danger.
Hayes rotates with Lauren James benched
Emma Hayes rang the changes from the Conti Cup final defeat, with only Millie Bright, Jelena Cankovic and Sam Kerr keeping their place in the side. The most notable absentee was probably Lauren James considering her recent form, Hayes starting the forward on the bench.
Considering she had looked off her game at Selhurst Park and with a Sunday's heavyweight game against Man Utd to come it was probably a sensible call. The England star, Sophie Ingle and Eve Perisset made up a strong looking bench and of the trio only Ingle was called upon.
A refreshed James could be exactly what Chelsea need to down their fellow title contenders at the weekend. It also showed the quality throughout the WSL holders squad that was wasn't needed this evening - yet they still won comfortably.
Blues ensure Man Utd don't get any breathing space at the top
Chelsea came into this game four points behind surprise package Man Utd ahead of the two meeting on Sunday. A defeat could have seen them hand United a big opportunity to extend the gap to seven on Sunday - even with games in hand remaining, that would be a tough ask.
But instead they did what also seems to come naturally to Hayes' team - respond to a loss with a win. While United have already dropped points against Everton in 2023 and Arsenal have done likewise away at West Ham, the Blues just roll on. Tonight's win means Sunday is all set up to be one of the games of the season.