Having threatened to run away with the Premier League title, Chelsea are losing ground by the week. In the past six matches they have scored three goals and taken a mere five points, surrendering the leadership first to Manchester United and now to Arsenal, both of whom they face later this month, after an away game at Tottenham.
At least as worrying as the statistics yesterday was a feeble performance against one of the few sides who traditionally enjoy a visit to Stamford Bridge. Everton left with a fifth successive draw on this ground, this one fully deserved and all the more meritorious after they had been so badly beaten at home by West Bromwich Albion last week. That result had dropped them into the bottom six.
"We had harsh words but the players responded really well," Everton's manager, David Moyes, said. "We deserved the result. Chelsea are hurt and needing a result and in the first half we were hanging in there for some periods."
It was hardly the stuff of desperation even then. John Terry, playing on the back of only three days' training, hit the bar but it took a penalty to bring the champions a goal, Didier Drogba striking it confidently for his first League score in eight games. By his own admission, the Ivorian striker is not fully recovered from his dose of malaria; of his partners in attack, Nicolas Anelka had one of his more frustrating days and Salomon Kalou became the butt of the crowd's wrath.
Michael Essien's return after suspension added some drive to the midfield that still failed to translate into scoring opportunities – of which Chelsea had barely one in the whole second half – and more hope than ever is now being invested in Frank Lampard, who has not started a game since August. If he is not back soon – next weekend is being pencilled in – the title may slip away.
Carlo Ancelotti admitted to being "angry" at the way the performance tailed off in the second half, accusing his team of deserting their natural game for long-ball football. "The first half was good but the second half was totally different," he said. "We work towards a particular kind of football and I don't understand why we changed. Second half we were afraid, scared and unable to play our football, just big ball to Didier alone up front."
After a stunning start to the season that brought five successive wins and 21 goals, Ancelotti knew "a difficult moment" would arrive at some point. "But not for so long," he said last night. He will not agree, publicly at least, that the changes to the coaching hierarchy forced upon him, with the popular Ray Wilkins being brutally sacked, have had any effect. "The problem is not on the bench, it's on the pitch," he said.
In addition to Chelsea's self-inflicted problems, those created by Everton stemmed from the excellence of Leighton Baines, the left-back who was in line to go to the World Cup before Aston Villa's Stephen Warnock stole his place as reserve to Ashley Cole. Yesterday Baines overshadowed England's first choice with his runs and crosses. He would have a decisive effect on the result.
In the first half, Terry and Petr Cech dealt with them and the visitors' only direct threat on goal came in the first half-minute, Cech holding Louis Saha's low drive. Then the referee, Lee Probert, became a central figure. He might have dismissed Florent Malouda and Tim Howard in separate incidents. Malouda reacted to two fouls from behind by Phil Neville with a hand-off to the face but did not receive a card of any colour. "Phil got up and got on with it, then a minute later their player got him booked," Moyes claimed. "I was disgusted."
Everton received the benefit of any doubt a few minutes before the interval when Howard blocked Anelka to concede a penalty but was allowed to stay on the pitch. Drogba thumped in the penalty and all seemed well with Chelsea's world. It was an illusion. Throughout the second half they worried Everton just once, when Seamus Coleman possibly fouled Cole, who was about to turn in a cross from the substitute Paulo Ferreira. It was significant that the move involved two full-backs.
Another back, however, was becoming the dominant figure. From one Baines cross, Jack Rodwell headed against the inside of a post. From his corner, Phil Jagielka back-headed over the bar. Finally, four minutes from time, Baines hoisted another centre, Tim Cahill nodded back across goal and Jermaine Beckford, equally loosely marked, headed in.
Referee: Lee Probert
Man of the match: Baines
Match rating: 6/10