Chelsea's lead at the top of the Premier League was cut to a single point last night as John Terry showed the first signs of his personal troubles affecting him on a night when Everton's Louis Saha reduced him to a shadow and scored twice.
Carlo Ancelotti did not appear for a post-match press conference but his assistant Ray Wilkins indicated that the Italian will allow Terry to miss Saturday's FA Cup fifth round tie at Cardiff, to rebuild his private life. "Carlo's giving him a bit of time. They've had a little chat, John and Carlo, and decided that will be best for all concerned," Wilkins said.
Ancelotti could at least reflect on Manchester United's failure to move ahead of his side. The champions' 1-1 draw at Villa Park, which came after Nani was sent off in the first half, leaves the title race on a knife edge. But the Chelsea manager will not want to see a repeat performance from his captain. Terry's night reached its nadir when he allowed Sylvain Distin's high 75th-minute ball to sail over his head for Saha to claim his 15th goal of the season. Saha also escaped Terry for his first half goal.
Wilkins rejected suggestions that Terry might have been affected by the events of the past two weeks. "Not at all," he said. "You've got to give Louis Saha a bit of credit there. John got under the ball for the second one and probably thought Saha was going over the top of him to win it. If it's a mistake then I'm sure it's the slightest of blips."
Wilkins acknowledged that Saha's first goal, which cancelled out Florent Malouda's 17th minute strike, bore out Chelsea's struggles to defend setpieces. "It's a shame isn't it?" he said. "A shame – a lack of concentration. It was a good delivery, a good header and from that perspective we are very disappointed. It's a very exciting Premier League. That's what we wanted. And we still find ourselves at the top of it despite what's happened here today."
It was David Moyes first win against Chelsea in 23 games and the Everton manager acknowledged that Saha, who missed a first-half penalty, ought to have left the field with double his goal tally on the night. "He should have got four goals, not two," said the Everton manager. "I gave him a slight pat on the back but not a full one," he added, alluding to the injury-prone nature of a player who was allowed to leave Old Trafford 18 months ago because Manchester United could not rely on the fitness of a player the fanzines came to call "balsa man".
"John Terry is a top central defender," Moyes quickly added, "and if they don't want him we'll have him."
Moyes also had the satisfaction of seeing Landon Donovan frequently get the better of Ashley Cole, who limped off with an ankle injury which Chelsea do not fear is too severe. Moyes does not believe he can keep Donovan beyond his 10-week loan period, the Californian having signed a new contract binding him to LA Galaxy when the Major League Soccer season starts. Everton's success reflects the form of a side who have only lost twice in the league since the 3-2 defeat at Hull in late November.
Sir Alex Ferguson described the tackle by Nani on Stiliyan Petrov that saw the Portuguese winger sent off as "naive". "He has gone in double-footed and you can't do that," the United manager said. "It was a naive tackle. He has left the referee with no other option [but to send him off]." In the title race, however, Ferguson said United had "gained". He said "With Everton winning, we gained one point and one goal. It could be important."