The Chelsea juggernaut hit the Everton brick wall with a thud. David Moyes' team were probably the last side Chelsea wanted to meet after their epic endeavours of recent weeks. Few outfits work as hard for their points as Everton which was not good news for Treble-chasing Chelsea, contesting their sixth game in 18 days.
At the final whistle the Chelsea manager, Guus Hiddink, accepted his side are now out of the title race. "I said before we could not afford to drop any points but the fact is we lost two points tonight so we have to be realistic," he admitted. "Mathematically there is a chance but you cannot afford to waste points. It is difficult. Now we have to focus on our other two roads, the Champions League and the FA Cup final with Everton."
Hiddink said he may now start resting his star players, starting with Saturday's trip to West Ham, with an eye on the Champions League semi-final with Barcelona next week. "We will see the analysis after the game," he said. "Some players may be in the overload zone. We have to focus more on the Champions League games, that's for sure."
Chelsea's effort could not be faulted. They threw everything at the visitors, particularly in a frantic second half, but the closest Chelsea came to scoring was when Didier Drogba hit the Everton bar in stoppage time.
Moyes' side in fact created by far the better chances, although they were on the back-foot for much of the match, and were it not for an inspired performance by Chelsea keeper Petr Cech the Merseysiders could have snatched a famous win.
Cech had come under fire for leaking eight goals in his previous three games before last night. But the towering keeper responded with a flawless performance and a string of saves that ensured Chelsea managed to avoid an embarrassing defeat to the team they will meet in the FA Cup final on 30 May at Wembley.
Twice in the opening 10 minutes Cech denied Everton's Brazilian striker Jo. The £17m striker, on loan from Manchester City, went close with a glancing header but should have done better than to shoot at Cech's legs when put clean through on goal.
Chelsea dominated possession but Everton maintained their concentration and defended with purpose to frustrate their hosts, a foretaste perhaps for what to expect from their Wembley encounter at the end of next month. Chelsea have profited from their height and power in recent games by scoring vital goals from set plays. But Everton stood firm and kept Chelsea' six-foot marauders at arm's length.
As the match started slipping from the home side's grasp captain John Terry decided to take matters into his own hands with a rasping effort from fully 40 yards that Everton keeper Tim Howard tipped round the post at full stretch.
Chelsea increased the tempo, but still it was beyond them to create clear chances. One of the best fell to substitute Salomon Kalou who headed over from six yards. The home side's desperation to score left them vulnerable to counter-attack, and Chelsea were fortunate to escape when first Tim Cahill and then Leon Osman fired shots wide late in the game.
In the final minute Cech showed tremendous bravery to dive in and head the ball away from Jo. The Chelsea bench feared the worst as Cech, who suffered a fractured skull at Reading in October 2006, fell to his knees. But fortunately the keeper was quickly on his feet and was able to resume.
For Everton the satisfaction came in stopping Chelsea's powerful side in its tracks. Moyes said: "It's another clean sheet, after 120 minutes against Manchester United on Sunday and now Chelsea. We can't afford to rest players. We have to keep ploughing away.".
Chelsea (4-3-3): Cech; Ivanovic, Alex, Terry, A Cole; Ballack, Essien (Mikel, 60), Lampard; Malouda (Di Santo, 76), Drogba, Anelka (Kalou, 60). Substitutes not used: Hilario (gk), Belletti, Mancienne, Mellis.
Everton (4-4-2): Howard; Jacobsen (Jagielka, 86), Lescott, Yobo, Baines; Osman (Rodwell, 88), Castillo, Neville, Pienaar; Cahill, Jo (Saha, 90). Substitutes not used: Nash (gk), Hibbert, Vaughan, Gosling.
Referee: M Halsey (Lancashire).
Booked: Everton Neville.
Man of the match: Cech.
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