Everton seal a point as Chelsea stutter again in the title race
Chelsea were denied top spot in the Premier League on Saturday after Everton’s Jermaine Beckford headed an 86th-minute equaliser to seize a valuable point for the visitors after a Didier Drogba penalty had given the Blues a first-half lead.
It was a tame opening at Stamford Bridge with both sides displaying signs of low confidence. Chelsea, who endured a torrid November having not won a league game in over three weeks, lacked spark up front with Drogba largely subdued thanks to the ever-present Everton centre-backs Phil Jagielka and Sylvian Distin.
Everton have failed to keep a clean sheet in six successive Premier League games but the visitors’ defence looked comfortable in the opening exchanges. The main battles took place in the congested midfield allowing little space for creative outlets such as Florent Malouda and Tim Cahill to operate in.
The match came to life when Phil Neville tangled with Malouda on the half hour mark. The French international appeared to strike the Toffees’ skipper on the ground but a lenient Lee Probert booked Neville for the original offence as Malouda escaped unpunished.
But 10 minutes later matters worsened for the former Manchester United defender when his misplaced back pass was intercepted by Nicolas Anelka.
Anelka tapped the ball past Everton goalkeeper Tim Howard but then collided with the American shot-stopper. Referee Probert pointed for what looked to be a harsh penalty as Anelka made little effort to avoid Howard, who was unable to shift his momentum to evade the onrushing striker.
Drogba assumed responsibility for the spot-kick in the continued absence of the regular penalty taker Frank Lampard. The Chelsea target man emphatically thumped his effort past Howard to give Chelsea a timely boost three minutes before half-time.
Everton were the side on the front foot after the break. Leighton Baines outshone England’s current first choice left-back Ashley Cole with a number of superb deliveries which tested John Terry’s match sharpness.
On the 60-minute mark Baines’ delicious delivery was met by Jack Rodwell but the exciting Everton prospect was only able to crash his header against Petr Cech’s right post. Moments later a Baines corner was deflected towards the far post by Jagielka with Rodwell close to connecting with his team-mate’s flick.
A collision between Cahill and goalkeeper Cech resulted in a facial injury to the Czech Republic international with play stopped for five minutes while he received treatment.
But the pause in play failed to deter Everton and the warning signs for Chelsea continued as the away side looked to bombard the home side’s box with whipped crosses and floated balls. Steven Pienaar’s perfectly-weighted delivery was met by substitute Jermaine Beckford’s glancing header but Cech was on hand to prevent the equaliser.
However, with four minutes remaining of normal time Beckford finally conjured up a deserved leveller. Unsurprisingly Baines provided the assist, curling a cross into the Chelsea six-yard box. Cahill rose highest and directed his header towards Beckford who had escaped the attention of Terry and thumped his header past Cech to silence Stamford Bridge.
And when the fourth official announced seven minutes of added time it was the away side who showed renewed impetus going forward, not the reigning Premier League champions.
The final whistle was a sobering sound to the Chelsea players who have failed to win a league game since 10 November and now slip into third position behind Arsenal and Manchester United.