Chelsea scrambled a stoppage-time winner to snatch a 1-0 victory over Everton on Saturday, showing their Premier League title mettle by claiming three points when they looked on course to suffer another damaging blow.
After drawing their last league game against West Bromwich Albion and suffering a chastening FA Cup defeat to rivals Manchester City, Jose Mourinho’s side were looking for a morale-boosting return to form.
Yet they looked sluggish for most of the match and after finally sparking into life they came up against a stubborn Everton rearguard, which only crumbled deep into added time.
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Chelsea won a free kick wide on the left which Frank Lampard whipped into the penalty area and Everton keeper Tim Howard deflected it into his own net with John Terry sliding in to challenge.
“We’re delighted with the win and the three points. We made it difficult but they are a very good side and are playing well under (manager Roberto) Martinez. It was a tough game today,” Terry told BT Sport.
“We recently dropped points to West Brom so it was important to get the points.”
Leaders Chelsea moved to 60 points from 27 games, four clear of second-placed Arsenal who face Sunderland at home later on Saturday.
Everton stayed sixth with 45 points from 26, eight adrift of Liverpool in fourth.
With Chelsea having never lost a home league match under Jose Mourinho and Everton without a win at Stamford Bridge in 20 years, it came as a surprise to see Martinez’s men make all the running in the first half.
With Lampard returning to centre midfield in place of the energetic Ramires, Chelsea looked flat, their passes lacked zip, and movement in attack was limited and uninventive.
The visitors dominated the opening 45 minutes with Leon Osman forcing a fine finger-tip save from Petr Cech, Phil Jagielka glancing a header wide when unmarked and Kevin Mirallas having one shot blocked by Gary Cahill before snatching at another.
At the other end, Everton’s Howard was called into action only once to keep out a Samuel Eto’o shot with his legs.
Predictably, Chelsea changed things up at the break and Ramires was prematurely summoned from the bench to replace a tired-looking Oscar.
It had an immediate impact on the flow of the game with Lampard making a trademark run into the box before shooting low at Howard’s legs while the Everton keeper pulled off a stunning double save to deny first Hazard and then Ivanovic.
The pressure on the Everton goal built as the game wore on but Chelsea’s attacking waves broke down at the final hurdle until the third minute of stoppage time.
The feeling of injustice was heightened for Everton as it looked like Ramires had gone down easily under a challenge from Jagielka.
“It was one of those situations where players were trying to buy too many free kicks,” Martinez said.
“You need a strong referee… The second half is a very, very tough game for referee.
“You can see they are trying to get a dead ball situation because they couldn’t get any joy from open play.
“You can see the reaction and way the way he loses his footing, it’s not because of contact, he is looking for the free kick.”