Eidur exploits Beattie's blues

Steve Tongue at Goodison Park
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The Independent Football

The stereotypical notion that footballers are not very bright people received further support on Merseyside yesterday when Everton's recent £6m signing, James Beattie, was sent off for a ludicrously indisciplined head-butt only eight minutes into a crucial game for his club. Not surprisingly, they were outplayed from then on, making only two late chances, both of them from free-kicks moved forward 10 yards after John Terry and then Jiri Jarosik deliberately kicked the ball away. Unlike Beattie's aberration, the Chelsea pair's did not affect the result.

The stereotypical notion that footballers are not very bright people received further support on Merseyside yesterday when Everton's recent £6m signing, James Beattie, was sent off for a ludicrously indisciplined head-butt only eight minutes into a crucial game for his club. Not surprisingly, they were outplayed from then on, making only two late chances, both of them from free-kicks moved forward 10 yards after John Terry and then Jiri Jarosik deliberately kicked the ball away. Unlike Beattie's aberration, the Chelsea pair's did not affect the result.

The Chelsea manager, Jose Mourinho, would have been rightly furious had his team thrown two points away in those circumstances in the wake of last week's draw with Manchester City. As it was, with Joe Cole doing a poor imitation of the injured Arjen Robben, they took until the 69th minute to score the goal that ensures thoughts can now be turned to the other three legs of a unique grand slam. For Everton, the day's only consolation was Liverpool's failure to make up any ground on them.

Mourinho had offered the conspiracy theory that at the end of international weeks Chelsea always have to play earlier than Manchester United (who meet their neighbours City today) and Arsenal (who take on Crystal Palace tomorrow night). But the authorities will have to come up with something more drastic than that to curtail a lead now standing at 12 points with 11 games to play. Perhaps forcing Chelsea to play without a goalkeeper would have some effect; Petr Cech has not conceded a goal in 10 successive games, and the defence marshalled by Terry have enough clean sheets to supply one of those Chelsea Village hotels.

Preparing a ploughed field for them is an alternative strategy. The Goodison pitch has been relaid in both penalty areas only, as if Everton were a Sunday afternoon customer arriving at the garden centre to find there was insufficient turf left to cover the whole lawn; the story was that Manchester United, desperate to improve the Old Trafford surface, got there first. That may prove a dubious advantage when they travel down the East Lancs Road for Saturday's FA Cup tie and see what they have to play on.

Nothing of note had happened until Beattie, who scored for Southampton after 12 seconds at Stamford Bridge in August, decided to go through the motions of setting off in pursuit of a punt up the left wing. Terry was always in position to shepherd the ball out of play but Beattie became increasingly annoyed at William Gallas's attempts to block his run; first he pushed the Frenchman in the back, then, absurdly, leant forward and butted him on the back of the neck. It would have been a ridiculous thing to do in the 88th minute of a frustrating afternoon; in the eighth, it was difficult to think of an appropriate adjective.

Just as bizarrely, Everton's manager, David Moyes, settled for "undeserved", suggesting to general astonishment: "I've seen it again and I don't think it was a sending-off. The centre-half went down far too easily. I was a centre-half and I'd have been ashamed to have gone down like that. I think James was running with his head down and ran into the back of him."

Up until then it had been expected that Chelsea might dominate possession but would have to withstand some pressure from Beattie and Marcus Bent in attack; afterwards Bent was reduced to the lone foraging role demanded of him before Beattie's arrival at the club, except that 4-5-1 was now 4-4-1. On one occasion in the first half, gamely holding up the ball amid a crowd of Chelsea shirts, he held his arms wide in a forlorn appeal for some help. It did not arrive until the 74th minute, when Duncan Ferguson strode from the dug-out for his 24th Premiership appearance of the season - 23 of them as a substitute. By then, however, Chelsea had broken through. Five minutes earlier, Paulo Ferreira crossed low from the right, Gallas jabbed the bouncing ball on to the crossbar and Eidur Gudjohnsen tapped in the rebound.

It was perhaps their 12th serious attempt on goal, the law of averages, if not of football; demanding some reward at last. The best of the earlier ones brought fine saves from the ageless Nigel Martyn, diverting Gudjohnsen's angled flick for a corner and thwarting the same player from no distance as the outstanding Damien Duff's shot was deflected to him. Cole produced one weaving run to shoot straight at the goalkeeper, but must have felt that Robben's role on the wing is too restrictive for him. Jarosik, the tall Czech midfielder, later replaced him to help repel Everton's late aerial threat as the home supporters were offered two moments of hope in identical circumstances.

Twice Chelsea conceded free-kicks out on the flanks, then had the ball moved forward 10 yards after dissent. On the first occasion, Kevin Kilbane whipped in his best cross of the game for Lee Carsley to head at goal, Cech extending his astonishing unbeaten record beyond 16 hours with a comfortable stop. The second time, Everton's new loan signing from Real Sociedad, Mikel Arteta, lined up a shot right on the edge of the penalty area but struck the defensive wall. Any sign of Chelsea hitting the wall has yet to be detected.

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