Last-gasp Terry keeps Chelsea title bid on track

Posted by Phil Lythell

John Terry group celeb Chelsea EvertonGettyImagesChelsea celebrate their late winner against Everton.

A dogged if uninspired Chelsea emerged with a 1-0 win over Everton courtesy of John Terry's late goal.

The injury-time winner ensures that Chelsea remain top of the Premier League for at least another week and further enhances their credentials of topping the tree at the end of the season. It is games like this that win the title, the type where three points are wrestled from the opposition by sheer force of will even when it isn't totally deserved. There might have been little in the way of fluid football, though desire was ultimately the difference between the two sides and Chelsea's persistence was duly rewarded.

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The game itself ebbed back and forth with Chelsea book-ending the game as the dominant side and Everton having large spells of control in between. The opening ten minutes saw the hosts come flying out of the blocks, seemingly on a mission to stamp their authority on proceedings. For all the territory and possession enjoyed by Chelsea, they were unable to create any clear-cut opportunities in that period and Everton soon got a foothold in the game.

Part of the reason that Chelsea ceded the initiative was the performance of Oscar, who had a first half to forget. The Brazilian has seen the standard of his displays dip in the last few weeks with his early season influence having lapsed along with a degree of confidence. Against Everton his touch was heavy and his decision-making was poor. Oscar's trademark lithe body swerve and deceptive strength were both entirely absent as he found himself muscled off the ball time after time. Given his outstanding talent, his current travails are not a long-term concern though the sooner he can rediscover his form the better for everyone.

With Everton winning the midfield battle, it was no surprise Oscar found himself replaced as Chelsea switched to 4-3-3 after half–time. Jose Mourinho's decisiveness was rewarded with greater balance in midfield and the introduction of Ramires afforded greater protection down the Blues' right flank, where Leighton Baines had enjoyed some freedom in the first half.

The added dynamism and physical presence also left Chelsea with more insurance against the counter-attack, while also releasing Frank Lampard to make an impression on the game. The veteran had a quiet first half, often being bypassed by the opposition's quick passing and being unable to create effectively from deep. After the break, however, he posed a far greater attacking threat and brought a decent save out of Tim Howard after being cleverly played in by Eden Hazard.

There was much endeavour from both sides, but the lack of a top striker in either team was a huge factor in the game remaining goalless for so long. Samuel Eto'o was lively, though sometimes a little too selfish, trying an extra trick and losing the ball when a simple pass was on offer. He did sting the palms of Howard in the first half, though that was as close to scoring as he would get. His replacement Fernando Torres was full of running when he came on, but he never looked like finding the back of the net; his first shot sailing miles off target and his second slammed straight into Hazard's back from point-blank range.

That it was one of Chelsea's centre-backs that eventually broke the deadlock was entirely apt considering the towering performances from each of them. Terry was the usual totem repelling anything that came in his path and looked a menace whenever he visited the opposition penalty area for a corner. Alongside him, Gary Cahill was arguably even more impressive. Solid in the challenge and balletic on the ball, he appears to have taken up the baton from Terry and Ashley Cole to become Chelsea's foremost interceptor. One especially eye-catching moment came in the first half when a slick and incisive Everton move cut Chelsea open. The goal appeared to be at the mercy of Kevin Mirallas only for Cahill's diving head to deflect the shot wide.

The game was fundamentally decided thanks to differing priorities between the two sides. For all the problems they posed the home team, Everton decided that they were happy with a point and their ambition dwindled accordingly in the final fifteen minutes. Conversely, the knowledge that a victory was imperative to maintain their advantage in the Premier League table meant that Chelsea pressed hard in the final stages, even risking being outnumbered on the break as they overloaded in attack.

Andre Schurrle's volley flew high over the crossbar and a Ramires piledriver whistled past the post. For all the bluster it seemed that their efforts would come to nothing. And then came Lampard's floating free kick and Terry's toe-poke over the line. Two club legends who have seen it all combining just when it mattered most.

On such results are champions made, though they will also be aware that performances will have to improve if they are to stay the distance.

Follow Phil Lythell on Twitter @PhilLythell


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