Chelsea v Everton
The brilliance of Leighton Baines and Jermaine Beckford’s poacher’s finish ensured David Moyes’ side earned a deserved point at Chelsea in his 400th game in charge.
Trailing to Didier Drogba’s first half penalty the Blues completely bossed the second half and, after pulling level, looked the more likely to snatch it.
Baines’ consistency and wonderful ability to deliver perfect crosses have been a real feature of Everton’s season.
And again the 25-year-old delivered for his manager and his teammates as his intervention finally unlocked a Chelsea defence who had been creaking throughout the second half.
Baines showed great skill and no shortage of pace as he danced his way through a posse of Chelsea defenders before serving up yet another tantalising cross.
Tim Cahill rose highest at the back post and headed across goal where substitute Beckford was waiting to sneak his second league goal of the season.
Moyes had made four changes to his starting line-up following the 4-1 humbling by West Brom.
Skipper Neville returned at right back in favour of the injured Tony Hibbert, while Jack Rodwell, Seamus Coleman and Marouane Fellaini came in at the expense of John Heitinga, Victor Anichebe and the suspended Mikel Arteta.
Everton hadn’t won at Stamford Bridge in 15 visits but were unbeaten in their last four games against the Londoners – drawing three and winning once.
And it was the visiting Blues who made the more confident start as Steven Pienaar slid in Louis Saha to sting the palms of Peter Cech with a mere 30 seconds on the clock.
Ten minutes slipped by before the hosts had a sniff of goal as Soloman Kalou sensed a chance, only to be thwarted by Phil Jagielka’s robust challenge.
The hosts were beginning to dominate and Nicolas Anelka ghosted past a couple of challenges before fizzing a low strike inches wide of Tim Howard’s near post.
Neville and Malouda were becoming embroiled in a ragged battle and, with 20 minutes gone, the French winger looked like he had overstepped the mark as he lashed out at his prone adversary.
The referee did not see it like that, however, and kept his cards in his pocket. Two minutes later Malouda was back in the action as John Terry got on the end of his corner and looped a shot onto the Everton bar.
At the other end Fellaini’s cute pass set the marauding Coleman away. He went straight for the jugular but the back-pedalling Branislav Ivanovic intercepted just as he prepared to put Saha in on goal.
The visitors best chance of the half then arrived as Coleman’s low shot turned cross bounced back of Cahill’s heel with the Aussie unable to readjust inside the Chelsea six yard box.
The hosts were still looking the more likely and only the Kalou will know how he managed to miss as he wastefully nodded Malouda’s plump corner wide with not a challenge in sight.
The threat remained but when the breakthrough arrived it was rather handed to them on a plate.
The normally unflappable Neville was the unlikely culprit as his undercooked backpass put Anelka clean through.
The striker popped the ball past the advancing Howard and the USA stopper blocked him off. Lee Probert had no doubts and pointed to the spot.
The presence of Jagielka and Distin probably saved the keeper from a red card but that was the extent of his respite as Drogba stepped up to crash home the opener.
The Blues stuck to their gameplan in the second half and enjoyed a decent spell of possession. Baines and Pienaar were getting plenty of joy down the left and it was from that source they almost pulled level.
Fellaini got involved and helped release Baines beyond the Jose Bosingwa. Rodwell met his inch perfect cross but watched aghast as his header smacked the inside of the post and crept along the line with Cech beaten.
The Blues were on top and another Baines delivery – this time a corner – was glanced narrowly wide by Jagielka. On chances, Moyes’ men were well worth a leveller.
And, thanks to the superb Baines, it arrived with five minutes of normal time to go.
The left-back embarked on a mazy run leaving several of Chelsea’s bamboozled defenders in his wake.
Baines’ delivery had been exceptional all afternoon and again he obliged. This time the ball reached Cahill at the back post and he headed across goal for Beckford to nod the equaliser.