The returning John Terry was the stoppage-time hero as Chelsea got back to winning ways.
Visitors Everton were poised to record their sixth draw in eight visits to Stamford Bridge until a free-kick with only two minutes remaining was diverted into the net by the captain’s boot, finally breaking the resistance of Roberto Martinez’s well-organised side who had contested an even first-half, before coming under sustained Chelsea pressure after the interval.
The win extended our lead at the top to four points ahead of our title rivals games this weekend.
Terry was back after missing three games, the skipper’s recovery well timed as David Luiz was injured. Frank Lampard returned to the midfield having last started in the win against Newcastle in the last home game. Oscar was also back in the line-up after a substitute appearance at Man City, and Samuel Eto’o continued to lead the attack.
Everton’s only change from their last league game, a defeat at Tottenham, was due to be at centre-forward with recent loan-signing from Monaco, Lacina Traore, starting. However the 6ft 8in Ivorian was injured in the warm-up so Steven Naismith played afterall.
The Chelsea players warmed up in special Building Bridges t-shirts, carrying the names of all the organisations involved in our first Game for Equality. The shirts during the game also had the Building Bridges logo on and a special video promoting equality was shown on the big screens.
Immediately before kick-off, and in common with all Premier League grounds since the passing of England legend Tom Finney last Friday, there was a minute’s applause in tribute to the former Preston player.
It was a modern day winger, Willian, who had the first shot of this lunchtime game at the Bridge, hitting a low shot wide after a Chelsea move begun in our own half following an Everton free-kick.
Moments later, Cesar Azpilicueta was in the right spot to cut out a cross that was heading the way of dangerously placed Seamus Coleman as the game swung from end to end, establishing a pattern for the half. Almost immediately Leighton Baines blocked a shot from Oscar. The Brazilian was then an early booking for a foul on Naismith.
With 12 minutes gone Everton showed their potential as an attacking threat with a swift move, resulting in Osman firing at the target from Mirallas’s lay-off. Fortunately Cech was able to tip the shot over.
Everton had the next shot too – blocked wide by Cahill from Mirallas. When Chelsea pushed forward, we were finding Everton with plenty of men in the right areas to crowd out our attacking players.
A good period of Blues pressure ended with a 28th-minute shot from Azpilicueta, too close to Tim Howard to trouble the American.
Willian picked out Lampard with a diagonal ball that caught the Everton defence by surprise but our record goalscorer couldn’t get power or direction on his header.
Some short, sharp passing between Willian, Hazard and Eto’o found a way through the crowd but the Cameroonian’s shot after he had turned hit Howard. However we were looking more of a threat than at any time in the game so far, with the half inside its final 10 minutes.
Terry planted a header wide from a corner, won and taken by Willian before Everton went back on the attack on the stroke of half-time. Mirallas fluffed his lines when a shooting chance came his way, followed by Chelsea efforts from Hazard and Willian that were too tame.
Everton, under new management, were as on many occasions down here in recent years, going to be a tough team to beat.
Ramires came on for Oscar for the restart, Willian moving into the no.10 position, but it was our no.8 who had the first attempts of the half – Lampard’s initial shot saved by the keeper and his follow-up blocked by Distin.
Three corners in quick succession followed, and they were good ones from the Blues, with a hurried clearance preventing Ivanovic making something of a Terry header.
On 57 minutes, Cech did well to keep out a deflected Osman shot that was creeping inside the post, before a couple of minutes later it was a double save from his counterpart that kept Chelsea at bay.
The first stop by Howard, from Hazard’s low drive, pushed the ball back out into play. Eto’o’s header was off-target but it did succeed in giving Ivanovic a volleying chance out beyond the far post. To our consternation, Howard had managed to dart across his goal and blocked the Serbian’s well-struck shot with his body.
It was time for Jose Mourinho to set Everton a different problem. He brought on Fernando Torres for Willian with Eto’o moving to wider on the right and Lampard further forward in the middle. Before long, Schurrle replaced Eto’o.
Everton were far less of a threat to the Chelsea goal in this second period, with Matic an increasing influence in midfield, but could the home side land the killer blow?
There was briefly pandemonium in the Toffees’ defence as Hazard flicked a high ball over them, but Torres’s shot deflected unluckily off his Belgian team-mate.
Inside the final 10 minutes, Barry became the second player shown a yellow card for impeding Ivanovic on the halfway line as the defender tried to spring a counter-attack.
Ivanovic, with the next move forward, found Schurrle with a high ball to the far-post area but with German perhaps not realising he had time for a second touch, he volleyed high and wide.
With 89 minutes on the clock, Ramires smashed a 30-yarder only a foot wide, summing up a game so far in which Chelsea had gone close but not close enough. That was until the captain’s intervention midway through the five minutes of added time.
Jagielka was booked for his foul on Ramires 15 yards outside the Everton area. The chance was there for Lampard to initiate a set-piece saviour. The ball was whipped in for a Chelsea header but when it cleared the crowd, Terry was still alive and slid in to make the vital touch just centimetres ahead of Howard. From a yard out the ball was turned into the net and the league leaders had three more points.
Chelsea (4-2-3-1): Cech; Ivanovic, Cahill, Terry (c), Azpilicueta; Matic, Lampard; Willian (61), Oscar (Ramires h-t), Hazard; Eto’o (Schurrle 68).
Scorer Terry 90+3
Unused subs Schwarzer, Cole, Salah, Ba.
Booked Oscar 9
Everton (4-2-3-1): Howard; Coleman, Jagielka (c), Distin, Baines; McCarthy, Barry; Mirallas (Deulofeu 74), Osman (Barkley 63), Pienaar (McGeady 79); Naismith.
Unused subs: Robles, Hibbert, Stones, Garbett.
Booked Barry 81, Jagielka 90+2
Referee Lee Probert