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Venue: Stamford Bridge, London
Premier League
 Wednesday 11 February 2015; 7:45pm
1 0
Willian (89')
Half Time: 0-0
Attendance: 41,592
Fixture 25
Referee: Jonathan Moss

Match Report

Just two minutes, plus stoppage time, were all that lay between Everton and a hugely creditable point at Stamford Bridge. Had they been able to hang on, they would have registered a fourth successive clean sheet for the first time in almost six years and become only the second team to deprive Chelsea of maximum points at Stamford Bridge this season.

Instead, a focused and determined defensive stand buckled in the aftermath of the game's most controversial incident, one that saw Gareth Barry sent off for a second bookable offence and Branislav Ivanovic escape punishment altogether for his aggressive manhandling of James McCarthy right in front of referee Jon Moss.

The Serbian would remain on the pitch, despite conduct that might have seen him ordered for an early bath by a more competent or courageous referee, to win a header from the subsequent free kick that would lead to the winning goal from Willian with 88 minutes on the clock.

Ultimately, even though the contest had had an air of "only a matter time" about it for much of the evening, particularly as Chelsea ratcheted up the pressure in the final quarter of an hour, the result was decided by that fine a margin an instinctive anticipatory reaction at one end by Peter Cech to brilliantly deny Romelu Lukaku; a crucial deflection off Steven Naismith's toe and a moment's hesitation by Tim Howard on an otherwise impressive return to the starting line-up at the other.

Viewed through the prism of a season that has yielded a paltry six wins from 24 matches coming into this midweek clash, this was a good performance from Everton and one that deserved a point that would have done little to enhance their Premier League standing but would have provided another shot in the arm in terms of morale ahead of the trip to Switzerland next week.

That they carved out the best chance of the match and actually edged their hosts in terms of possession in the first half was testament to the fact that the Blues hadn't simply come to park the bus. They had come with a gameplan predicated on defence for the first hour or so which transitioned to a slightly more adventurous posture in the last 20 minutes. But, Bryan Oviedo's superb centre for Lukaku in the 68th minute aside, Roberto Martinez's men were ultimately let down by their now familiar impotence going forward.

The manager had wisely elected to rest McCarthy by starting him on the bench after his 90-minute comeback in Saturday's Merseyside derby, giving Ross Barkley his first start in three games and handed Aaron Lennon his full debut at the expense of Kevin Mirallas wide on the right. In goal, Joel Robles was controversially dropped despite overseeing three consecutive clean sheets while Oviedo deputised again for the injured Leighton Baines.

Chelsea, with new signing Juan Cuadrado making his first start since arriving from Fiorentina, began in ominously energertic fashion and the first sign that this was going to be a long night of battling both the League leaders and one of the Premier League's least-admired referees arrived very early when Muhamed Besic was booked for his first offence. His challenge on Eden Hazard was clumsily late but lacked malice and the yellow card left the Bosnian walking a tightrope until half time when he was replaced by McCarthy for the second half.

Worse, after Willian had flashed a shot inches over the crossbar, Cech had denied Lukaku's 20-yard effort off his weaker foot with an extended leg and Howard had pawed a Lioc Remy header to safety, Barry joined his defensive midfield partner in the book when he brought dragged his man down having been easily beaten for pace.

Nevertheless, Besic made his usual adjustment from aggression to more measured covering and harrassing and Everton coped fairly well for the remainder of the first half, restricting the London side to a couple of shots dragged across the face of goal and a John Terry header that flew over the bar while Lukaku forced a routine stop from Cech after cutting in from the right.

On the whole, the second period was a more open affair but there were signs that even as Chelsea assumed greater control of the ball and later introduced Cesc Fabregas and Didier Drobga from the substitute's bench, they actually looked less and less like scoring. With Everton pulling white shirts behind the ball and working tirelessly to press the spaces and keep pressure on the man in possession, Jose Mourinho's side seemed to be running out of ideas. John Stones was magnificent at times, at one stage pulling off successive slide tackles to keep Hazard away from his goal, while Phil Jagielka and Oviedo worked in tandem to reduce the inroads available to Cuadrado and Willian from the right. Switching flanks, Hazard got through in the 61st minute after burning past a tired-looking Naismth but Howard was there to beat away the Belgian's shot.

At the other end, Lukaku managed to get in behind Kurt Zouma but the Frenchman used his pace to charge down his attempted cross. Though the resulting corner was initially cleared, the ball was worked back to Oviedo who drove a dangerous ball into the six-yard box where Lukaku was on hand to seemingly turn it past Cech from point-blank range. The Czech international had anticipated the direction of the ball, however, and was able to make a stunning save with his foot, leaving Lukaku incredulous.

Then, after Lennon had made way for Mirallas, Everton's tricky Belgian collected a pass from his compatriot Lukaku and ignored Coleman overlapping to his right in favour of a 20-yard effort that flew narrowly over.

If it felt like Everton had dodged the inevitably fatal bullet with five minutes remaining when Nemanja Matic's goal was ruled out for offside on Ivanovic, the back of their impressive display was broken on those defining two minutes at the end after Barry was whistled for a lazy trip on Willian and, after the ensuing handbags and cajoling from the likes of Terry, referee Moss flashed him a second yellow card.

Howard fisted away Ivanovic's header from the resulting free but only as far as Willian whose shot was diverted slightly off course by Naismith, leaving Howard rooted awkwardly and unconvincingly to the spot as the ball crept inside the post, seemingly within arm's reach of the American. And that was that.

Mourinho's admission that after the game that Everton posed "difficult" opposition was an acknowledgement of just how close-run a thing this match was. As the better team, it was not surprising that Chelsea would end up edging the possession and having more shots on goal but the Blues deserved a point for the manner in which they defended for virtually the entire match.

The conflict for the Evertonian comes when forced to consider the offensive side of our game which was again mostly impotent, despite some encouraging moments from Lennon, a better all-round performance by Lukaku and that one terrific chance served up for him by Oviedo. Granted, Chelsea away is not the game where you'd expect much from an attacking point of view but the fact remains that this is, on paper, a talented team going forward and, on the few occasions we really had a go at Mourinho's back line, we almost scored.

Unfortunately, those opportunities were few and far between thanks to poor decision-making or distribution when it mattered. Martinez's persistence with an unbalanced formation designed to accommodate both Naismith and Ross Barkley again stymied the team in the final third, with promising moves often breaking down in now-familiar fashion with both players.

As difficult as is to dwell on individuals, Barkley was again ineffective when we needed some inspiration and his dramatically waning star is painful to witness right now. Though better than against West Brom, the lad offered very little this evening and was predictably substituted with 20 minutes to go. How Martinez goes about rebuilding his confidence and drawing that abundance of talent out of him again could be one of the manager's biggest challenges but until the wins start coming, a passenger in such an important area of the team is a luxury we simply cannot afford.

Heart can be taken from such a spirited performance against the best side in the Premier League, the latest in a string of sound defensive displays since Stones resumed his partnership with Jagielka, and, in combination with the four-match unbeaten run that preceded tonight, it can provide a platform on which to build towards the work that must be done against Young Boys when the Europa League resumes. With just one goal scored in the last four games, however, a solution to our attacking problems needs to be found soon. In shoring up a leaky defence, the edge at the other end appears to have been blunted and neither cup success nor Premier League safety will be achievable without the manager rediscovering his offensive mojo.

Lyndon Lloyd

Matchday Updates

Tim Howard went straight back into Everton's starting XI for this evening's clash with Chelsea, while Aaron Lennon made his full debut in place of Kevin Mirallas. James McCarthy was not risked and started on the bench, with Ross Barkley coming into the midfield.

Everton kicked off but Matic was first to get forward and drive over Howard's bar. Naismith was perhaps lucky to escape a rather strange possible handling offence as he shouldered a high ball. Hazard bamboozzled Besic into a silly foul and a yellow card inside 5 mins. William was next with a pot shot just inches over the bar.

It was really all Chelsea, but Jagielka got Everton moving, Barkley playing in Lukaku whose low shot almost sent Cech the wrong way. Barry followed up off the corner with a shot off target.

Howard made a tremendous one-handed save of a header by Azpilicueta, who was later booked for a poor foul on Lennon. Hazard again ran at the Everton defence but nothing came from a couple of Chelsea corners. Hazard came very close to clipping the ball in from close range.

Lennon played in Coleman for a decent cross but Chelsea countered at speed and Remy drove wide. Barry was next for the compulsory card, his 10th of the season for clattering Cuadrado. Hazard then conned the ref into a dangerous free-kick for a nothing brush by Barry, but that almost caught Everton out.

After a spell of Chelsea pressure, Lukaku got forward and had a weak shot straight at Cech. At the other end Cuadrado ran into Stones and collapsed but not given and Everton had time and space to run the ball forward, ending with a poor cross from Lennon and immediate pressure on the Everton goal, leading to a corner that Besic headed away but Hazard lashed a serious shot in low that Howard did very well to stop and hold.

Barkley still seemed overly tentative when given inviting possession in the middle third, but not running forward and playing short balls to the likes of Naismith, who promptly gave it away. Another spell of forward possession saw lots of passes around the Chelsea area until Lennon lost the ball.

Barkley was felled and the ball at least came close to Cech's goal before Chelsea broke forward again. Coleman tried to get around Azpilicueta but was stopped. Another Chelsea corner, this one headed well over by Terry.

Everton had defended solidly in the first half and kept the sheet clean without looking too nervous or suspect at the back, perhaps reflecting greater confidence in having Howard between the sticks, and had made a fair attempt to get the ball forward without really threatening the home goal.

Besic, on an early yellow, did not reappear after the break, James McCarthy on in his stead. Barkley played a great ball for Lukaku who had astoundingly stepped offside yet again, and Chelsea were straight on the attack. Forward moves by Everton were ruined in succession by Naismith, Lennon, and then Jagielka. Lennon's cross was then really shocking.

At the other end, Stones brilliantly dispossessed Remy and then blocked well, but Ivanovich got in a weak header. More forward movement by Everton fizzled out with no end-product. Coleman was next in the book after Hazard was getting away from him.

Hazard got down the byeline and put in a brilliant low cross that needed defending. e then danced into the Everton area and lashed it at Howard from a narrow angle. Lennon then fouled Ramirez in a really dangerous area, the new man not really having a very good game. Matic came really close with the free kick but Howard did a brilliant starman save to stop it going in.

Chelsea pressure kept building, Howard having to parry a good Willian attempt that almost fell for Remy. Lukaku almost beat Zouma then from the corner, and a good ball back out to Oviedo from McCarthy, who lashed in a superb low cross right on to Lukaku's foot for the opening goal... only the Big Man somehow failed to score, Cech anticipating his almost languid goalbound clip.

Double changes from both sides followed. Gibson and Mirallas on for Barkley and Lennon. The seemingly relentless pattern of the game resumed, however. as the game entered it's last 15 mins.

Lukaku went on something of a run, and Mirallas followed up with a good shot but over. The game suddenly sped up and became end to end, as both sides showed more intent, Jagielka getting annoyed with hesitation by Howard, who later came out well to punch a cross away.

Chelsea kept pressing but Everton's defending was resolute and unpanicked... until a shot from the edge of the area and a wicked deflection saw the goal... only for the linesman to flag Ivanovich offside.

Barry then with a poor trip challenge saw the handbags come out and a second yellow card for the Everton player.

In the very next attack, on 10 man Everton, Howard punched out to Willian whose shot gets two deflections before beating Howard at the near post in the 90th minute. A cruel but all-too-predictable end to the game that could and should have been an Everton win.

Michael Kenrick

Match Preview

While Roberto Martinez was able to inspire Everton to the double over Manchester United and a hugely creditable draw at Arsenal in his first season in charge, two increasingly galling away hoodoos that can be erased in the next month remain intact.

It's 19 years since the Blues last beat Arsenal on their home turf and now 21 years since an Everton team won at Stamford Bridge in the Premier League, lingering legacies of the dark 1990s and the infamous pschological hold the old "Sky Four" appeared to have over David Moyes.

Last season saw a spirited performance from Martinez's men in West London that never looked like earning a long-awaited win but surely deserved the point that was denied by John Terry's late intervention. Jose Mourinho's team never really got past third gear last season but the Portuguese presides over a well-oiled machine right now. The fact that Chelsea have a seven-point lead over their nearest challenger at the top of the table, combined with Everton's record of just one win seven games makes this midweek trip to the Capital almost seem like an exercise in futillity.

Strange things happen in football, though, so while there's opportunity there is hope. And with each deliberate step the Blues take away from that nightmare run of results over Christmas and the New Year, the confidence grows so that, hopefully, Martinez can get back some of that fearless approach that was a hallmark of 2013-14.

It's unlikely to be today, however. The fact that he is likely to adopt the same approach for this game as he did in Saturday's anaemic Merseyside derby one predicated on a shored-up midfield and defensive solidity at the expense of attacking intent probably means this won't be the occasion where some of the shackles come off. But then we'd probably all take a draw before a ball is kicked, even it will make for another frustrating spectacle.

With Aiden McGeady ruled out with a knee injury and Leighton Baines is also highly doubtful having not trained for a week, any desire on Martinez's part to go "same again" for this one will largely depend on the fitness of James McCarthy, Muhamed Besic and Steven Naismith. The Irish international played the full 90 minutes on Saturday despite having played no football since the end of December and his manager indicated in his pre-match press conference that the condition of the his hamstring will be assessed before a decision is made. Besic, meanwhile, was carrying "a knock" according to Martinez and Naismith suffered a neck injury in an early fall against Liverpool but but both should be fit to play.

Should any of them fail fitness tests, the door would be opened for Ross Barkley or Aaron Lennon to step in after both started the derby on the bench but came on to make positive contributions in the time available to them. That would certainly give the side a more creative outlet and, hopefully, help bridge the large gaps between Romelu Lukaku up front and the rest of the side.

With something to prove to his old boss now that he is eligible to face them again at Stamford Bridge, Lukaku will have extra motivation to add to his tally of seven League goals but he will need service to do so.

The question of who starts in goal is one of heated debate among supporters following Martinez's comments about the first-choice spot being Tim Howard's to lose but this game might come too soon for the American who only resumed full training a few days ago. That would give Joel Robles one more match in which to stake his claim for a berth many fans believe he has already earned with three successive clean sheets.

Despite their dauntingly impressive League form and the likely return of Cesc Fabregas, Chelsea are not infallible and, like any team, can succumb to an opposition that comes ready to have a go and push them to the limit. Just ask Bradford City.

While there was plenty of that spirit and attitude about them when the chips were down in the FA Cup at Upton Park last month, there has been very little about Everton over the past three games that suggests they will play with such abandon, at least not for the first hour.

More probably, Martinez's approach will be one of containment for the first two thirds of the contest and then, perhaps, a gradual upping of the ante if things are still level late on. Again, most fans would take a draw from such a difficult fixture and use it as another stepping stone towards the all-important first leg against Young Boys in a week's time.

Lyndon Lloyd

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Match Preview
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Match Report
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CHELSEA (4-4-2)
  Subs not used

EVERTON (4-5-1)
  Coleman booked
  Barry booked sent off
  Besic booked (McCarthy 46' booked)
  Barkley (Gibson 74')
  Lennon (Mirallas 74')
  Subs not used
  Baines (injured)
  McGeady (injured)
  Osman (injured)
  Pienaar (injured)
  Atsu (ineligible)
  Long (loan)
  Lundstram (loan)
  McAleny (loan)
  Pennington (loan)

Premier League Scores
Arsenal 2-1 Leicester
Hull City 2-0 Aston Villa
Liverpool 3-2 Tottenham
Sunderland 0-2 QPR
Chelsea 1-0 Everton
C Palace 1-1 Newcastle
Man United 3-1 Burnley
So'hampton 0-0 West Ham
Stoke 1-4 Man City
West Brom 2-0 Swansea

Team Pts
1 Chelsea 59
2 Manchester City 52
3 Manchester United 47
4 Southampton 46
5 Arsenal 45
6 Tottenham Hotspur 43
7 Liverpool 42
8 West Ham United 38
9 Swansea City 34
10 Stoke City 33
11 Newcastle United 32
12 Everton 27
13 Crystal Palace 27
14 West Bromwich Albion 26
15 Sunderland 24
16 Hull City 23
17 Queens Park Rangers 22
18 Aston Villa 22
19 Burnley 21
20 Leicester City 17


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