Instead of putting pressure on United, who have a tricky match on one of their less successful grounds, The Dell, this evening, Chelsea fell to their seventh defeat of the season and could be 10 points behind the leaders by tonight. Not many championships have been won with that number of lapses and certainly few have been collected after such a sloppy performance.
Chelsea were without the injured Dennis Wise and the ailing Gianfranco Zola but to use their absence as mitigating factors would form a flimsy alibi. The visiting team assumed a casual dominance when Everton could barely string a pass together, but then could not raise the tempo of their game when their opponents clicked. It was a careless defeat rather than a comprehensive one.
As a consequence a match that seemed to be theirs for the taking when Tore Andre Flo put them ahead after 36 minutes was snatched away from them with a vibrant second-half performance from Everton, who have risen to 13th place. Such are the changing fortunes of football that Goodison now rings to talk of qualifying for Europe instead of fearing relegation.
Strikes from Gary Speed, Duncan Ferguson and an own goal by Michael Duberry mean that Everton have scored three times in their last three fixtures and have suffered only one defeat in the Premiership in their last seven matches. At the end, supporters were chanting the the name of their manager, Howard Kendall, a stark difference from a few weeks ago. "That's always nice to hear," he said wryly, "as long as it's not followed by the word 'out'."
In the first half, it was unlikely anyone felt inclined to sing praises as the play was so untidy it ought to have attracted the attention of the local council's environmental health department. Sloppy passing was predominant so that, although Chelsea were undoubtedly the superior side, they did not manage a shot on target for the first half hour. Everton? Let's say the video of the match will be fast forwarded over the first 35 minutes more often than it is played.
It was so mind-numbingly bad that it seemed almost inconceivable that 45 minutes of such dross had contained two goals, but all the action had been crammed into a 90-second spell quite at odds to what was around it.
Chelsea had been finding any number of ways to mess up promising positions and, when Bernard Lambourde threaded a pass inside Graham Allen for Steve Clarke in the 37th minute, there was every expectation his cross would end up in the crowd. Instead, he swept the ball over and after Flo's initial attempt at a header had been blocked by Carl Tiler, the Norwegian reacted first to the rebound, poking the ball beyond Thomas Myhre's dive.
You could have nominated any number of players who had been the worst passer but Tony Grant would have been up there with the contenders. He produced a beauty, however, to give Nick Barmby space on the right and, when his cross was headed by Mickael Madar against Frank Sinclair, Speed preyed on the carnage from a narrow angle.
That goal had a debilitating effect on Chelsea because they would never enjoy their previous dominance again. "We gave the ball away all the time," Ruud Gullit, the Chelsea player-manager said, "and good teams don't do that."
Barmby was the architect of Chelsea's downfall, running at defenders, tearing holes with clever passes and it was his flick that ultimately led to Everton going ahead after 62 minutes. Madar should have scored but, after his shot had been saved by Ed De Goey's foot, the resultant corner was headed in emphatically by Ferguson.
That was the Scot's fifth goal in four matches, which constitutes a spree from a striker who is not noted as prolific, and few will be as simple. Given that it would be difficult to find a part of the planet where no one had heard of his prowess in the air, it is a mystery why Chelsea left him unmarked in the six-yard box. The fact he had to stoop in mid-flight further compounded the guilt of the visiting defence.
If that was criminal, Everton's third, after 82 minutes, had a strong element of the comic about it. Barmby ran to the right, taking two defenders with him, allowing Slaven Bilic to push a through ball into the heart of the area. Ferguson's first touch was woeful, but it looked positively assured compared to Michael Duberry's. The Chelsea defender tried to clear only to swerve the ball into the corner of the net.
His body position, hands on knees, and bemoaning his fate to the turf symbolised Chelsea's afternoon. It will take a lot to elevate their title hopes again.
Goals: Flo 37 (0-1); Speed 39 (1-1); Ferguson 62 (2-1); Duberry og 83 (3-1).
Everton (3-4-1-2): Myhre; Short (Thomsen, 87), Bilic, Tiler; Allen, Grant, Speed, Ball; Barmby; Ferguson, Madar (Farrelly, 70). Substitutes not used: Oster, Cadamarteri, Gerrard (gk).
Chelsea (4-4-2): De Goey; Sinclair (Gullit, 73), Duberry, Leboeuf, Clarke; Petrescu, Newton, Lambourde, Le Saux; M Hughes, Flo (Vialli, 70). Substitutes not used: P Hughes, Nicholls, Hitchcock (gk).
Referee: A Wilkie (Chester-le-Street).
Booked: Everton: Short. Chelsea: Lambourde, Hughes.
Man of the match: Barmby.
Attendance: 32,355.Reuse content