Dogged Toffees end Blues title challenge

Chelsea 0 Everton 0

Battling Everton killed off Chelsea’s lingering title ambitions with a hard-fought goalless draw at Stamford Bridge.

The result leaves Guus Hiddink’s side three points behind second-placed Liverpool and six adrift of leaders Manchester United, who beat Portsmouth at Old Trafford and also have a game in hand.

The game, a dress rehearsal for May’s FA Cup final, was dominated by both goalkeepers.

Chelsea’s Petr Cech and Everton’s Tim Howard took the plaudits on a night when both sides failed to make the most of their chances.

Chelsea’s Cech was the first goalkeeper forced into action when a left-wing cross from Joleon Lescott was glanced into the arms of the Czech Republic international by Jo in the second minute.

Cech came to Chelsea’s rescue in the sixth minute when Tim Cahill put Jo through with a neat pass but the Everton striker was unable to beat the home goalkeeper who kept out his shot at point-blank range.

Moments later Chelsea responded with a long-range effort from Michael Ballack smothered by Howard who dived low to his left to ensure the ball did not creep inside the post.

Everton captain Phil Neville was shown the yellow card for a foul on Didier Drogba in the 13th minute.

Three minutes later Lampard, playing his 50th game of the season, sent a 25-yard shot just over Howard’s crossbar.

Michael Essien tried to go one better than Lampard in the 19th minute but his effort was well off target.

Chelsea were now dominating the game but Everton still had their moments.

In the 22nd minute Steven Pienaar tried to curl a 25-yard shot into the top corner but unfortunately his accuracy left him down and the ball went the wrong side of Cech’s left-hand upright.

Cech then had to back-pedal frantically to ensure that a long-range free-kick from Leighton Baines did not creep in underneath the crossbar.

But Everton’s spell of pressure was when Joseph Yobo had to incept a Lampard pass to keep out the lurking Drogba.

Chelsea continued to press for an opening goal but Everton’s defence remained resolute.

Indeed, the Toffees almost opened the scoring themselves in the 33rd minute when Jo broke down the left-flank and crossed low for Cahill.

The Australian midfielder turned cleverly before drilling a low shot towards the bottom corner of the net.

But for the third time in the game, Chelsea goalkeeper Cech pulled off a superb save to deny Everton the lead.

Cech’s performance was outstanding and in complete contrast with his recent displays.

The Czech Republic international had been suffering something of a confidence crisis after conceding eight goals in Chelsea’s previous three games.

But had kept Chelsea in the game in the opening half to silence the critics who had criticised his nervy performances of late.

But a lightning counter-attack from Chelsea in the 42nd minute almost brought reward for the home side.

Nicolas Anelka led the charge as he burst down the right flank but with Florent Malouda completely unmarked in the penalty area, the France international’s cross was easily intercepted by Howard.

Two minutes before the break Cech raced out of his goal to beat Leighton Baines to the ball as Everton threatened to open-up the home side once more.

Cech rescued Chelsea again two minutes after the interval when a cross from Leon Osman was met by the head of Cahill.

The Everton midfielder’s glancing effort was well held by Cech who was looking unbeatable in the home goal.

The Toffees continued to press forward but Pienaar was again off target when he tried his luck from 25-yards.

Chelsea managed to wrestle back the initiative from the visitors but despite some intricate approach play, there was little invention in their attack.

The best they could muster was a clever flick from Drogba that set Anelka racing into the penalty area but his shot flew across the six-yard box without troubling Howard.

Chelsea made a double change on the hour when Essien was replaced by John Mikel Obi and Anelka made way for Salomon Kalou.

A minute later John Terry almost broke the deadlock for the home side when he let fly from fully 30 yards only for Howard to leap spectacularly to his left to deny the captain an opening goal.

Kalou then squandered a clear opportunity when he fired high over the bar from a corner by Malouda.

Jo wasted a chance to pinch the points for Everton when he fired high and wide from 18-yards in the 73rd minute.

Chelsea’s Kalou did likewise at the opposite end when he headed a cross from Malouda over the bar from six yards.

Everton goalkeeper Howard then saved superbly to deny Kalou in the 79th minute after Lampard’s corner found him unmarked.

Pienaar and Cahill both wasted late chances for Everton while Drogba hit the crossbar with a volley in injury time – a miss that almost certainly ended Chelsea’s interest in the title race.

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