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A dramatic stoppage-time goal allowed Barclays Premier League leaders Chelsea to snatch a 1-0 win over Everton.
Having dropped points at West Bromwich Albion in their last top-flight fixture, Jose Mourinho's men looked set to be frustrated again by an Everton side that had presentable chances of their own. However, a free-kick from Frank Lampard found its way into the net late on as Everton goalkeeper Tim Howard deflected the ball in under press ure from John Terry. The goal briefly sent Chelsea four points clear at the summit, while Arsenal's win against Sunderland brought it back to one point.
Everton, whose last League win at Chelsea came in 1994, remain sixth but have now suffered three successive away defeats to teams above them.
Leon Osman came closest to scoring in a first half short on goalmouth action, forcing Petr Cech into a sharp save from distance, although both goalkeepers were required to make impressive stops after the interval, before Lampard had the final say.
Fit-again Terry, back from a muscle strain, replaced David Luiz in Chelsea's team, while Lampard and Oscar were also recalled.
Steven Naismith, scorer of the only goal in September's return fixture, was drafted into Everton's side at short notice when Lacina Traore picked up a hamstring injury in the warm-up.
Willian dragged a low shot wide as the hosts started brightly, but Everton soon settled, enjoying prolonged spells of possession, and almost moved ahead in the 12th minute.
Naismith laid the ball into Osman's path 25 yards out and the midfielder's powerful first-time shot forced a fine one-handed save from Cech.
Chelsea gradually improved prior to the interval and visiting keeper Howard needed to be alert to deny Samuel Eto'o after the forward had made space for himself inside the penalty area.
Everton's Kevin Mirallas then wasted a fine opportunity just before half-time, scuffing a shot into Naismith having been given space on the edge of the box.
Chelsea, with Ramires on for Oscar, came out for the second period with renewed purpose and Lampard tested Howard following a neat pass from Eden Hazard.
Yet Everton refused to lie down and Osman brought another good save from Cech on 58 minutes with a deflected strike that the keeper did well to parry past his left-hand post.
Not to be surpassed, Howard got down to deny Hazard before springing to his feet to keep out Branislav Ivanovic's close-range follow-up.
Ramires almost broke the deadlock in the 89th minute with a fizzing 25-yarder that flew narrowly wide, but it mattered little as Chelsea secured a precious winner.
Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho: "The feeling when you lose points in the last minutes, like we lost two points against West Brom, is a bad feeling. When you win it's the opposite. It's basically a compensation of the points we lost against West Brom.
"'For the last 15 minutes we were strong; we created; we pressed; we dominated. When you score (a late goal) you can speak about luck ... but the reality is the boys chased that.
"A point for them (Everton) is good. A point for us is not good, and in the end maybe we deserved it.
"If we get a draw, I think in a couple of hours we are third in the table [Chelsea could actually only slip to second, although City have a game in hand]. This is the reality in this competition. Every victory keeps us there (at the top of the table). Every defeat or draw, we lose a position.
Everton manager Roberto Martinez: "You saw today why Chelsea are 73, 74 games unbeaten at home. I think it's an incredible know-how, using every single trick in the book to try to get advantageous positions. That happens everywhere. Just look at the record that Chelsea has at home (and) they must be more than playing well every week."
"The scoreline is what matters in the short-term and we are hurt, we're not going to hide it, but the performance is exactly what we needed. We showed that we can play eye-to-eye with the league leaders.
"We need to make sure that when we deserve to get a positive result, we do that. But I'm excited about what's ahead of us. I thought we were magnificent. Tim Howard had a period of 5-10 minutes that he was at his best (in the second half) but from that point on I couldn't see Chelsea scoring from open play."
|22 Mar 2014||v Arsenal (H)|
|15 Mar 2014||v Aston Villa (A)|
|13 Apr 2014||v Swansea (A)|
|29 Mar 2014||v Crystal Palace (A)|
|01 Mar 2014||v Fulham (A)|
|04 May 2014||v Norwich (H)|