Rafa Benitez says Everton summoned the “Spirit of the Blues” to overcome the odds and earn a draw from a highly-charged visit to European champions Chelsea on Thursday.
Everton went to Stamford Bridge stripped of a slew of first-choice performers. But in the absence of the likes of Dominic Calvert-Lewin, Richarlison and Demarai Gray, the likes of Jonjoe Kenny and Anthony Gordon and goalscorer Jarrad Branthwaite delivered gusty and focused turns that were rewarded with a fully-merited point for their team.
The travelling Evertonians, vocal all night, belted out their Spirit of the Blues anthem, as the away side initially repelled Chelsea, then responded with a quickfire equaliser after falling behind to Mason Mount’s 70th-minute strike.
Everton have claimed 11 of their 19 points from losing positions this term and remain 14th, three points away from a return to the top half of the Premier League standings.
“The players and fans were all together, the team spirt, [showing] the Spirit of the Blues,” said Benitez.
“We had so many issues and problems with senior players not available.
“We needed spirit and intensity and commitment and had them all, against a good team.
“They had some good chances but, on the counter-attack, we had some chances.
“I am really pleased, because it is a great point and because of the way we won the point.
“We showed great character and have shown character in a lot games.
“We are coming back in a lot of games – which is good and bad.
“The way the players worked we deserved something because we have had so many issues with bad luck and injuries and other problems.
“The reaction of the team was fantastic.”
Everton ran their socks off to deny Chelsea space and time on the ball and limited the hosts to a series of half-chances.
The visitors’ performance was about more than hard work, however, Benitez crafting a plan to suit his available players and drive title-chasing Chelsea to distraction.
When the home team did get through a stubborn rearguard, they found Jordan Pickford in tremendous form.
The Everton keeper denied Mount one-on-one, adding to saves from Hakim Ziyech and Reece James.
Pickford reserved his best for a sprawling stop to thwart Thiago Silva at 1-1.
Mount fastened onto a ball from James to put Chelsea in front with 20 minutes remaining.
But only four more minutes elapsed before Branthwaite stretched to connect with Gordon’s dipping free-kick and send the packed away section into raptures.
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BRANTHWAITE BUZZING FOR EVERTONIANS
“The game plan is always there but it depends on the players,” said Benitez.
“We were practicing set-pieces [ahead of this game] and Jarrad did really well.
“We had a lot of senior players putting in a huge effort, Jonjoe Kenny working so hard, the young players, too, everybody giving everything.
“We have done that in a lot of games but not been lucky and deserved a little bit more.
“Against a good team, we did what we had to do.
“Every single player on the pitch did their job and was making a contribution to the game plan.
“After, you could see everybody was delighted, the fans and every player.
“When you have players who are not are not playing but training well, as professionals, their teammates are pleased for them.”