Rooney at home among riches

Chelsea 0 Everton 0
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The Independent Football

Monte Carlo on their minds? Not a bit of it, maintained Claudio Ranieri, who for the second home match in succession attempted, rather unconvincingly, to explain away a disturbing absence of goals. Here, the Chelsea coach could have attributed his team's failure to garner the points necessary to increase the divide between them and third-placed Manchester United to the undoubted arch-culprit Adrian Mutu.

On three occasions, the Romanian had soared like a theme-park seal. Unfortunately, he failed to swallow the fish. Yet the striker, forging a rare partnership with Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, simply epitomised the overall malaise within a side who began and finished with promise, but otherwise, by Chelsea standards, were distinctly ordinary.

Beforehand, Ranieri had analysed the lack of points from last Saturday's Middlesbrough match and the defeat at Aston Villa on Monday with the explanation: "I think the great victory at Arsenal has taken some psychological energy from us."

Here again, the arguably more pressing matter of Tuesday's visit to Monaco appeared to disturb his team's equilibrium, just as it had done in their last two Premiership games. Afterwards, Ranieri argued: "I saw my players very focused. We wanted to do everything right. But we got nothing."

Frankly, he was being too generous to his team. Part of the cause may have been simply attributable to lack of key personnel. No John Terry (resting a damaged ankle, the legacy of a kick at Villa Park), No Eidur Gudjohnsen or Damien Duff (both suffering from "a fever"), no Hernan Crespo (injured) and, after 24 minutes, no William Gallas who departed with an apparent hamstring problem.

This wasn't a performance which will have instilled any undue fear in any watching spies from Monaco, whom Ranieri described as "a wonderful team, with four wonderful strikers and two wonderful wingers. We have a lot of respect for them."

From wonderful teams to wonder-boys. That enterprising Everton principal shareholder and theatre impresario, Bill Kenwright, may perhaps have considered a musical based on events at the home of the London Blues as he sat through the contest.

More likely, he will have been concerned with preventing Chelsea wresting away his coveted forward, Wayne Rooney, who again demonstrated what a loss he would be should the 18-year-old ever listen to overtures from yesterday's opponents. The England man led the line valiantly alongside Tomasz Radzinski and, but for the alertness of goalkeeper Marco Ambrosio, would have furnished Everton with a half-time lead.

By the end, Everton claimed their point by dint of some desperate defending and awful finishing by Chelsea, which left them nine points behind Arsenal. The chances required a prolific forward like Bobby Tambling, the club's all-time leading scorer who received a rapturous reception when he appeared at half-time. Instead the faithful could only watch in irritation as Mutu and Hasselbaink squandered numerous chances and Frank Lampard twice struck woodwork.

Ranieri made four changes to the starting side who lost 3-2 to Aston Villa, the most conspicuous absentee being Terry, who was on the bench following 14 consecutive starts. The forward pairing of Mutu and Hasselbaink linked effectively early on, but the Dutchman lashed his first inviting chance high over the bar. It set the trend for the afternoon.

Hasselbaink spurned two openings in swift succession. Then Mutu took over that role with relish, with one header wide, one high. The left flank was proving a regular conduit for Chelsea, with Wayne Bridge's scampering forays a constant threat to Everton. One left-sided move, this time involving Joe Cole and Scott Parker, culminated with the impressive Lampard lofting the ball beyond goalkeeper Nigel Martyn, off his line, only for the ball to rebound off the top of the bar.

Yet Everton began to counter with increasing purpose. Rooney and Radzinski, looked a potent force in their attacking sorties. One curling Rooney free-kick brought the best out of Ambrosio; then a few yards out and unchallenged, the teenager was foiled again by the Chelsea goalkeeper, who before half-time, saved once more from the England man.

But it was Hasselbaink who ended the half as Chelsea started the second, bringing an excellent save from Martyn. Still, the end product was missing from Chelsea's play. With 10 minutes remaining, Ranieri sent on Jesper Gronkjaer and Filipe Oliveira for Joe Cole and Parker. It had an immediate galvanising effect. Hasselbaink turned and crossed, picking out Mutu, but - wouldn't you just know it? - the striker directed his header wide of the far post. Then Lampard struck the post with a drive and Hasselbaink just failed to convert the rebound. Seconds later, Mutu crossed low, only for the ball to shoot off the thigh of Hasselbaink the wrong side of the post.

Everton, who by now had replaced Radzinski with Francis Jeffers, back in favour with his manager, but held on with grim determination to edge ever closer to safety. Meanwhile their opponents can concentrate on rather loftier ambitions, European superiority.

Chelsea 0 Everton 0

Attendance: 41,169