You can have Robbie Williams and Atomic Kitten at your 18th birthday bash, as Wayne Rooney did at Aintree last night, but what he and his team desire more than anything is a goal. Playing out a fourth successive Premiership game without one yesterday after spurning some excellent chances left Everton on a run of one win in nine League games, sliding from third position early in the season to the nether regions.
Chelsea's Adrian Mutu took advantage of a lack of concentration in the home defence soon after half-time to maintain the pressure on Arsenal and Manchester United. "Who needs Wayne Roo-ney when we've got Mu-tu?" sang the visiting supporters. It is a fair point at present, when the youngster is suffering to find his form just as Claudio Ranieri is developing a more settled side. Mutu and Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink were a potent combination, in contrast to Rooney and Tomasz Radzinski, and there is no need for the London side to rush Hernan Crespo back from injury, however keen he may be to return for Tuesday's Champions' League game with Lazio.
The midfield, with Claude Makelele as its anchor, is becoming a solid unit and had the better of Everton's depleted quartet once Géremi stopped hugging the right touchline so unthinkingly. Frank Lampard foraged forward to good effect and Joe Cole repaid Ranieri's confidence in awarding him a second successive start in the Premiership for the first time. It was to the home side's credit that they came so close to taking a point against superior opposition. But it is a sign of the times that managers and supporters are so satisfied with narrow defeats by the big three.
Everton's David Moyes, who must sell if he wants to bring in the Fulham midfielder Sean Davis after Christmas, claimed: "It was a good performance. We made as many chances against Chelsea as against some lesser sides. If we play like that we won't remain low in the table." Moyes felt that Mutu's goal might have been disallowed for the use of an arm, but had to admit that his strikers cannot continue to be so profligate; Francis Jeffers, Radzinski and Rooney were all guilty.
The boy wonder has just about managed to keep his feet in rough proximity to the ground in an extraordinary 12 months since his last-minute goal beat Arsenal at Goodison and projected him to national stardom at such a tender age. But Moyes has felt it necessary on occasion to register his disapproval at the showbiz element creeping into the young man's life. After some distinctly ordinary performances this season and a total of one goal in 10 appearances, Rooney does not have much of an argument.
He kept his place yesterday for a third game in eight days, alongside Radzinski, who contrived the first bad miss inside 45 seconds. Sent clear as John Terry failed to cut out Thomas Gravesen's pass, he clipped his shot wide, unwittingly setting the tone for the afternoon. Closer to the interval, Rooney passed up the sort of opportunity Everton could not afford to spurn. Carlo Cudicini, pressurised by Radzinski, kicked in haste straight at his partner and would have repented at leisure had the youngster not cleared the bar with his chip.
The home side's best moment came in the 23rd minute, from an unlikely source. Alex Nyarko, who seemed to have played in a blue shirt for the last time after handing his to a disgusted supporter at Highbury more than two years ago, had reappeared for the Carling Cup tie against Charlton in midweek and now returned to the Premiership. Collecting a short pass from Radzinski, he hit a ferocious shot against the angle of post and bar before Cudicini could make so much as a gesture.
After Mutu's audacious attempt to score direct from the kick-off - the ball floating high and wide - Chelsea had to wait awhile for a threatening volley from the same player and then a flowing counter-attack 10 minutes from half-time that ended with the Romanian setting up Cole to drive a whisker past the far post.
Gravesen and Radzinski, having almost opened the scoring so early on, did the same thing within 30 seconds of the second half. Once more the Dane made the chance for Radzinski, who with less time to think this time, shot instinctively, forcing Cudicini to a smart save. They were quickly punished. Géremi had space for a cross that no defender dealt with, allowing Mutu to lunge forward and head in from no distance at all.
The home side had suffered from losing their captain and defensive organiser David Weir, injured making a brave block tackle on Lampard after half an hour. There was uncertainty in their ranks again as Hasselbaink fed Géremi, a combination of defender and goalkeeper just managing to keep out efforts by the Cameroonian and then Lampard. A typically thunderous drive by Hasselbaink followed, as Géremi, unmarked to the right, waited optimistically for a pass.
Gary Naysmith's drive over the bar was insufficient to prevent Moyes making changes, sending on Jeffers and James McFadden for Radzinski and Tobias Linderoth. It was Jeffers who passed up Everton's most tempting opportunity of the game, heading wide from inside the six-yard box with seven minutes remaining and the home supporters wondering when they will next see a goal. Gravesen's low shot in added time was more deserving of one, but Cudicini was equal to it.
Everton 0 Chelsea 1
Half-time: 0-0 Attendance: 40,189
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