Everton seem determined to test the nerves of their supporters until the bitter end, just as they did last season. A mere point from a match they dominated in terms of territory and chances ensured that it will be a little while yet before their thoughts can turn from Premiership survival to their FA Cup final appointment.
It was a defence which had kept a clean sheet for the last three matches that let them down last night, twice quickly squandering a precious lead during a frenetic second half.
The first of those equalisers, just a minute after Everton had taken the lead for the first time, saw David Hopkin, no notable header of the ball, left alone to meet David Lee's corner.
The second was the result of a collective failure to clear the ball, followed by Neville Southall's bizarre dive over Paul Furlong's half-hit stab which succeeded only in speeding its progress towards the net.
If Everton were culpable for those two goals, they were close to blameless for the one that put Chelsea ahead against the run of play in the first half. They had a strong case in claiming that Mark Stein was offside from Frank Sinclair's header, but surely an unarguable one when Stein's cross shot flew up off Southall for Furlong to guide in his first. The double appeal for offside yielded only a booking for Gary Ablett.
Although Everton had already made a number of clear opportunities, it was a mark of their lack of fluency that Andy Hinchcliffe's accuracy with the dead ball was the central feature of much of their best work.
His typical curling free-kick produced Everton's first goal, and his long corner, met beyond the far post by Paul Rideout, was nodded in at the near by Ablett the second.
After the first of the Everton defence's gifts, Daniel Amo-kachi, otherwise lacking a sure touch in front of goal, appeared to have reprieved them with a goal worthy of winning a Cup final, not just a relegation dogfight.
Taking Hinchcliffe's pass with his back to goal, and turning away from his markers in a purposeful arc, he hammered a superb right-footed shot home. Thanks to the ineptitude at the other end, it won Everton nothing, not even peace of mind.
"I'm scared to say what I thought of the first goal, it looked so far offside," said the Everton manager, Joe Royle, no stranger to end-of-season nailbiting. "But we led twice after that, and we can't use it as an excuse. The good thing is that the other results haven't been bad for us, and it is still in our own hands."
However, Everton now have a FA Cup injury worry over their midfielder, Graham Stuart. After the match, he went for X-rays on suspected cracked ribs following a freak collision during the match with his team-mate, Andy Hinchcliffe. "He's in some distress," said Royle. "He's having trouble breathing and the chances are he has cracked his ribs."
Everton: (4-4-2) Southall; Barrett, Watson, Unsworth, Ablett; Stuart, (Barlow, 35) Horne, Parkinson, Hinchcliffe; Rideout, Amokachi. Substitutes not used: Samways, Kearton (gk).
Chelsea: (4-4-2) Kharin; Clarke, Lee, Sinclair, Minto; Burley (Hoddle, 74), Spackman, Peacock, Hopkin; Furlong, Stein. Substitutes not used: Hall, Colgan (gk).
Referee: B Hill (Market Harborough).Reuse content