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Frank Lampard scored twice to inspire Chelsea to recover from Steven Pienaar's second-minute strike and secure a fourth successive Barclays Premier League victory.
The win ensured that Chelsea head into 2013 in third place in the table, just four points behind second-placed Manchester City with a match in hand.
Lampard is now just one goal short of Kerry Dixon, who is the club's second all-time leading scorer with 193, but it had looked like being a long afternoon on Merseyside for the visitors after Everton got off to a dream start with just 64 seconds gone.
Phil Jagielka, playing at right-back because of injuries, swung over a cross that Victor Anichebe headed against the far post and Pienaar was quickest to react to the loose ball to drill it past Petr Cech. That strike ensured Everton recorded their best Premier League goalscoring return in a calendar year, beating the previous best of 64 in 1996.
The same post denied Nikica Jelavic a second from a free-kick, but this time the rebound was not so kind to Everton and Chelsea were able to clear. However, the home side, emboldened by a home record in which they have not been beaten in the league since late March, continued to press forward with Leon Osman bringing a good low save out of Cech.
By the midway point of the half Chelsea had begun to find a foothold in the game with Ramires and Juan Mata starting to have more influence. The former produced a driving 50-yard run and shot that was blocked by John Heitinga and Mata's follow-up caught just enough of the Holland defender to take off sufficient pace to allow Howard to block with his legs.
Full-back Ashley Cole was inches away from sliding in the equaliser from Cesar Azpilicueta's cross but the goal they threatened finally arrived three minutes before the interval. Lampard, given space, planted a header from Ramires' cross inside the far post to beat Howard.
Chelsea lost Cech to injury at the interval, giving Ross Turnbull his first league appearance of the season, as the second half started openly. Torres had been relatively subdued but started to get a few more openings and midway through the half brought a good save out of Howard with a shot on the turn.
Osman then did the same to Turnbull at the other end after side-stepping a couple of tackles, before Jelavic's flicked header from Leighton Baines' cross beat the goalkeeper but not the crossbar - the 17th time this season Everton have hit the woodwork.
With 18 minutes remaining Everton were carved open by another driving Ramires run and Howard was unlucky that, having brilliantly denied Mata, the ball fell to Lampard six yards out who could not miss.
Jelavic had a chance to snatch a draw deep into in added time but could not get enough power on his close-range effort and Turnbull gathered gratefully.
Everton manager David Moyes: “We are not disappointed with how we played because we did really well. We have run the European champions really close, we just didn’t quite have enough in the end.
“We played well enough to get something from the game and the players did a great job. From what we had available and what we could use, I thought we maximised that. We were a threat all day. We always looked like we could get a goal.
“It was just going to be a tough day for us with all the absentees. Chelsea have far more players to rotate their team with. I thought maybe we could get through this and take something from the game. But in the end you had the likes of Steven Pienaar and one or two others running on empty by the end of it. We have asked the boys to play an awful lot of games and we can’t really change them around too much.”
Chelsea interim manager Rafael Benitez: "It was a great win for us. The team showed their character and quality and although we made mistakes at the beginning the reaction was really good. At half-time we were talking about solutions and the players did really well.
'We knew that it could be tough but I had confidence in my players and at the end you could see we were controlling against a good team who have been 10 years with the same manager doing the same things, which gives them an advantage, but still we were doing well.
"We knew they could be tough but we had confidence in the players. We put Ramires on the right side against Leighton Baines and he gave us a great game, too."
|02 Jan 2013||v Newcastle (A)|
|12 Jan 2013||v Swansea (H)|
|21 Jan 2013||v Southampton (A)|
|30 Jan 2013||v West Brom (H)|
|02 Feb 2013||v Aston Villa (H)|
|10 Feb 2013||v Man Utd (A)|