Chelsea 1 Everton 0
Returning captain John Terry bundled in a stoppage-time goal as Chelsea beat Everton 1-0 to consolidate their lead at the top of the Barclays Premier League.
It appeared two points would be dropped by Jose Mourinho’s men as an entertaining contest remained goalless until Phil Jagielka was adjudged to have fouled Ramires in the left channel.
Frank Lampard’s inswinging free-kick was glanced down by Branislav Ivanovic and Terry slid in to score past Tim Howard.
It was a timely intervention from the skipper, who returned following a three-game absence with a gluteal muscle problem.
Chelsea had won once in his absence, but they now travel to Galatasaray for the Champions League last-16 first leg with Didier Drogba’s side on Wednesday after a morale-boosting victory.
Howard had earlier denied Eden Hazard and Ivanovic in quick succession, and Everton, who won the Goodison Park contest in September, were unfortunate to be beaten as their winless away run was extended to five games.
Mourinho’s unbeaten Premier League home record extended to 74 games as luck was on Chelsea’s side.
With Romelu Lukaku prevented from facing his parent club, Roberto Martinez had selected Lacina Traore for his first Premier League start, only for the giant Ivorian to withdraw after feeling his hamstring in the warm-up.
In came Steven Naismith, who scored the winner in September’s clash, but it was nonetheless a blow for the visitors.
At 5ft 8in Naismith is a foot shorter than Traore, offering a different threat to Terry and leaving Everton short of an attacking focal point.
Oscar received a yellow card for a foul on the Scot, who then played a lay-off for Leon Osman to strike a rising drive which required Petr Cech to tip over at full stretch.
Everton’s fluid football was causing problems for Chelsea, who were bidding to respond from a two-match winless streak following the draw at West Brom and FA Cup loss at Manchester City.
The visitors would not allow their hosts to settle, disrupting their rhythm with Osman, James McCarthy and Gareth Barry breaking up play in midfield.
When Chelsea got beyond the Toffees trio, they encountered another defensive wall in Sylvain Distin and Jagielka, who acrobatically cleared a menacing Hazard cross.
When that rearguard was breached, Eto’o wrong-footed Distin and shot left-footed, only for Howard to save.
Kevin Mirallas miscued a shooting chance from the edge of the area and Willian scuffed a shot at Howard as the half closed with Everton the better side.
Chelsea’s playmakers struggled in the first half and Oscar was sacrificed at half-time.
The Brazil playmaker’s recent showings have been below his high standards, something Mourinho attributed to the British weather, but on a spring-like day he was unusually quiet.
The more industrious Ramires came on and was immediately in the thick of the action, taking part in a shoving match with Osman after Steven Pienaar went to ground. Referee Lee Probert opted for a drop ball.
Chelsea pushed forwards, with Lampard shooting at Howard before Distin blocked the follow-up effort.
An attempted Eto’o through-ball towards Hazard hit Jagielka’s arm as the defender tumbled over and Chelsea, more than hope than expectation, appealed in vain for a penalty.
Willian and Ramires shot off target but still Everton were threatening.
Osman’s shot from the edge of the area clipped Mirallas, and Cech scrambled the ball round the post.
In an open game, Chelsea had three opportunities in quick succession following a corner.
First Hazard’s shot was parried by Howard. Eto’o tried to direct his headed follow-up across goal and into the top corner, but served only to miss the target completely and the goalkeeper then denied Ivanovic.
Fernando Torres replaced Willian and Eto’o pushed wide right before later making way for Andre Schurrle, while Ross Barkley came on for Osman for the visitors.
Still Chelsea were struggling to find the incisive pass, while Everton were playing like visitors, by having just scraps to feed off, unlike in the first half when they were marginally on top.
Mirallas was replaced by Gerard Deulofeu and Aiden McGeady replaced Pienaar with 10 minutes to go, with Martinez as positive as Mourinho in his substitutions, believing his side could win the contest.
Chelsea continued to forge forward and Torres blasted into Hazard and wide when the ball would not quite sit for the Belgian and then the Spain striker fired wildly wide.
Terry stood firm as Barkley ran at him in the Chelsea penalty area and Ramires fired narrowly wide at the other end.
Finally the deadlock was broken after Ramires and Jagielka collided and the Chelsea man was awarded a free-kick.
Lampard whipped in the ball and Terry stabbed it beyond Howard.