Everton v Chelsea
Everton's 14-game unbeaten home run came to an end as Frank Lampard's double helped high-flying Chelsea come from behind to win at Goodison Park.
It was harsh on the Blues, who were twice denied by the woodwork, and were unquestionably the match of their top-four rivals.
As he did on his return to Merseyside back in February, Steven Pienaar struck early against the Londoners.
In fact, there were just 63 seconds on the clock when the South African found himself perfectly positioned to meet a rebound off the post and lash low past Petr Cech.
Yet Lampard headed home to level just four minutes before the break and added to his tally 18 minutes from time to inflict Everton's first Goodison defeat in nine months.
Irrespective of the outcome, 2012 was a year of progress for David Moyes and his men.
Whatever the result here, the Toffees were already certain to record their highest tally of league points in a calendar year since the Premier League began, while their eventual tally of 68 was bettered only by Chelsea, champions Manchester City and current Premier League leaders Manchester United.
Had they avoided defeat, Moyes’ charges would have equalled their post-war record for the fewest league defeats in a year, underlining just how impressive the past 12 months have been.
As it happened, Moyes was dealt a major blow in the build-up to the game as neither captain Phil Neville nor midfielder Darron Gibson were deemed fit enough to feature. Forced to make two changes to the side which ground out a 2-1 win over Wigan on Boxing Day, he opted to bolster his defence with John Heitinga and throw Steven Naismith into midfield.
With the injured Seamus Coleman and suspended Marouane Fellaini also absent, it was something of a patchwork Everton and not the full strength unit Moyes would ideally have sent into battle against the reigning European champions.
Yet, his is a squad that so often seems to grow stronger from adversity and they got off to the perfect start.
Phil Jagielka, deputising as a full-back, burst down the right and crossed deep towards the back post. There, Victor Anichebe outjumped the Spaniard, Cesar Azpilicueta, and when the striker's header came back off the post, Pienaar made no mistake.
The strike was Everton's 65th in the Premier League since Anichebe's first of the year against West Brom last New Year's Day, taking the Blues to their highest total of goals between January and December since the inaugural 1992/93 campaign.
It could have got worse for the shell-shocked visitors seven minutes later. Gary Cahill was punished for bringing down Pienaar 25 yards from goal and, with Cech rooted to his line, Nikica Jelavic saw the resulting free-kick cannon off the outside of the post.
The warning served to rouse the visitors from their slumber but while they began to look more like a side who came into the clash on a three-game winning streak, it was Everton - themselves unbeaten in seven - who again went close to extending their lead.
Pienaar was proving instrumental in all the host's early running and his nonchalant, brilliant backheel again set Jagielka free down the right. The England man hooked his centre low back towards the edge of the box, finding international teammate Leon Osman. Meeting the ball first time, the midfielder's shot lacked nothing in power but found the diving hand of Cech when any other path would surely have led to him doubling his side's lead.
It proved key as, four minutes before the break, Chelsea levelled. Ramires crossed from the right and there was Lampard, ideally placed to head Goodison into a quiet hush.
An animated, full-kitted half-time warm-up for goalkeeper Ross Turnbull suggested he was being readied for action, and, sure enough, the 27-year-old former Middlesbrough stopper was a surprise second-half replacement for Cech.
Shooting towards the Glwadys Street, Everton again made a spritely start but failed to muster an early test for the subsitute. They may have paid when David Luiz, once again being deployed in midfield, scooped the ball over the Blues' backline, only to see it squirm away from the flat-footed Torres. When the Spaniard did get a shot off shortly after he was expertly denied by Howard and then flagged offside.
If Everton had been unfortunate to go in level, they channelled their frustration into keeping their visitors pegged back. It worked and it wouldn't have been undeserved had they restored their lead on 68 minutes. Instead, Jelavic was denied by the woodwork a second time, his diving header from Pienaar's cross beating Turnbull but crashing back off the bar.
Worse, Chelsea's response was to go and nick the game and it was Lampard, perhaps incentivised by rumours surrounding his future, who doubled his and his employers' lead.
Howard did excellently to keep out Juan Mata's initial close-range effort but there was little the American could do to stop Lampard swooping in and lifting the ball high into the roof of his net.
A disappointing end to the year, Moyes, no doubt, will be more concerned with the bigger picture.