A big game, a good Everton, a good referee and a Chelsea with fantastic spirit is how Jose Mourinho, the Chelsea manager described the match. And a big game it certainly was, as Chelsea’s 1-0 win over Everton has kept them in a seven point lead at the top of the Barclays Premier League after a tumultuous clash at Stamford Bridge.
Despite Chelsea’s dominance, the frustration at their lack of scoring was evident throughout the final quarter of an hour and the relief was obvious when Willian broke the deadlock in the 89th minute as his long range effort, deflected off Steven Naismith and edged past the irrepressible Tim Howard.
The winning goal came just minutes after Everton’s Gareth Barry was sent off for his second yellow card after a tussle with Willian, while in the same scuffle, Branislav Ivanovic was fortunate to avoid any punishment after he grabbed the neck of James McCarthy and appeared to attempt to head-butt him.
It was a night of ‘almosts’ for both teams as Everton nearly took a surprise lead in the 8th minute when Ross Barkley found Romelu Lukaku with a nice through ball, but the striker’s low shot hit the legs of Petr Cech and went out for a corner.
Five minutes later the keeper at the other end, Tim Howard, on his return from a calf injury he picked up in December, was forced to make a wonderful diving save to keep Loic Remy’s header out of the back of the net. Two more Howard saves followed swiftly after to keep the game level at 0-0.
Everton fired back, but were unsuccessful as a curling shot from Lukaku went straight into the arms of Petr Cech, who was favoured by Mourinho after Courtois showed signs of fatigue in the last two matches.
Everton launched the first attack of the second half but Lukaku was flagged offside when he tried to connect with a through ball. A minute later, a shot from Ivanovic, the man Mourinho recently described as one of Chelsea’s best ever signings, sailed straight into the arms of the ever-ready Howard.
A Bryan Oviedo cross picked out the totally unmarked, former Chelsea player, Lukaku but his short range effort was superbly saved by Cech.
After being repeatedly denied by the impeccable Tim Howard all evening it looked as though Chelsea had finally broken the barrier when Nemanja Matic fired into the back of the net from distance but the goal was disallowed after a deflection from Ivanovic who was in an offside position.
But Chelsea weren’t finished yet and three minutes later, the winning goal arrived. A high ball into the box was punched away by Howard, but punched straight into the firing line of Willian who, from about twenty yards out sent the thundering volley into the bottom corner of the net.
It was an unfortunate night for Everton and the disappointment was evident as Roberto Martinez was seen shaking his head on the touchline but the night belonged to Chelsea who remain on course to lift the trophy at the end of the season.