LONDON, Dec 31 (Reuters) - - Chelsea coach Antonio Conte praised his players for overcoming the stiffest challenge so far in their record-equalling Premier League winning streak on Saturday when they beat a resilient Stoke City 4-2.
Chelsea allowed Stoke to equalise twice in the second half, conceding as many goals as they had done in the course of their previous 12 back-to-back victories combined.
With the scores level at 2-2 after 64 minutes, the league leaders launched an immediate onslaught on Stoke and within a minute Brazil winger Willian had restored Chelsea's lead with his second goal of the game.
"After their second goal it wasn't easy to go and have the good reaction," Conte said.
"I was a footballer and I know this situation. You look at the minutes and you see that you have not a lot of time to win the game," the former Italy international said. "But my players were fantastic to find again the lead."
After a slump in form in September, when they lost to title rivals Liverpool and Arsenal, Chelsea have now equalled the Premier League record set by Arsenal in 2001/02 by racking up 13 consecutive wins in the same season.
They can go one better if they beat London rivals Tottenham Hotspur who they visit on Wednesday.
Conte, whose name was chanted loudly by Chelsea fans throughout Saturday's game, said the first half of the season had been "incredible" for Chelsea but it would be hard to match it in the remaining 19 games.
"The second part of the season, for me, it will be very difficult for us," he said. "We started the season as an underdog and (now) we have the light on Chelsea and we know this. We must work more and see, game by game, to find the right solution."
Writing by William Schomberg; Editing by Rex Gowar