Game of the Day: Chelsea 3-3 Everton, 2016

Everton and Chelsea have taken part in some spectacular clashes in recent years. Only three of their last 35 meetings have finished goalless, and there have been some classics among the rest. A dramatic 3-2 Chelsea win at Goodison in 2006 and a 3-3 draw at Stamford Bridge three years later stand out. Tim Cahill’s late overhead kick to seal a 1-1 draw in West London a decade ago, and Leighton Baines’ free-kick magic in a belting 2011 FA Cup replay, also stand out. Throw in Roberto Martinez’s lax attitude towards the art of defending, and the chance of entertainment only increases. It had been a year and a half since an incredible 6-3 home mauling when Everton went to Stamford Bridge looking to take on their fellow Blues, and after a full 98 minutes of always nail-biting, eventually controversial action, they had again partaken in a truly memorable match.

Everton went into the tie three places ahead of their opponents, which since the early 2000s could be considered a superb feat – if at all a possible one. Yet Chelsea went into 2016 mired deep in the worst Premier League title defence ever – at least, until Leicester’s effort the following season. Jose Mourinho had departed after defeat to the Foxes in December, and replacement Guus Hiddink had drawn three and won three of his opening six games in his second stint at the helm. Three days before Everton’s arrival, Chelsea had thrown away a lead twice in a 2-2 stalemate with West Brom. They had blown a league-high 13 points from winning positions.

Everton were the one side who could challenge that record. 2-0 and 3-2 became 3-3 in a ridiculous draw with Bournemouth that surely couldn’t be repeated (ahem…). 3-2 became 3-4 against Stoke. Everton had to settle for 1-1 draws after taking first-half leads against Norwich and Spurs, meaning nine points had been snatched from the jaws of victory. West Ham, Watford and Southampton would all also peg Everton back before the season’s close.

Two sides who would finish just one place and three points apart, with the same number of goals scored and a similar inability to hold out for wins, were sure to be hard to separate. And so it would prove.

Everton had compounded Chelsea’s awful start to the season back in September thanks to a hat-trick from Steven Naismith. The Scot was missing from the squad for the Stamford Bridge tie, and would join Norwich three days later. His days of getting an ovation from the Goodison crowd were over – or so we thought. The away side, fresh off a satisfyingly drab 0-0 draw away to Manchester City, were still without Seamus Coleman. Bryan Oviedo deputised, as the Blues sought to avoid late Stamford Bridge heartache following consecutive defeats in West London, thanks to 89th and 90th minute winners.

A Chelsea side without Eden Hazard was still full of attacking talent, but it did not show in the opening stages. Willian had the first real chance of the game, but his powerful strike was straight at Tim Howard. A minute later at the other end, Ross Barkley played a clever pass through to Kevin Mirallas, and the Belgian chipped the ball over compatriot Thibaut Courtois and in. Had Mirallas managed to check his run, and not subsequently been called offside, Everton might have taken the lead early on.

Barkley was determined to take the game to Chelsea. The Wavertree ace shimmied and forced Courtois to parry the ball into the path of a stretching Oviedo, who couldn’t get the rebound on target. Romelu Lukaku dragged a shot well wide before a Mirallas run ended in the winger’s fierce effort forcing an excellent save from Courtois.

Everton went into the break having carved the best chances out of a fairly drab game. Re-emerging from the Stamford Bridge tunnel, they were about to play out one of the best periods of play of the season.

Lukaku shook off the challenge of three Chelsea defenders and fed Barkley, who delayed before releasing Baines on the left. The full-back squared for the big Belgian, but it wouldn’t reach him. Instead John Terry, making his 700th career appearance, stole centre stage (typical) by diverting the ball into his own net. Having taken the lead, Everton didn’t sit back and consider parking the bus. Instead, Barkley drove the bus straight through the hosts, but arrowed a strike into the outside of the post.

Everton were in full flow, and it only took a few more minutes until they extended their lead. Barkley ran into trouble and laid the ball off for Aaron Lennon, who found Baines in space yet again out wide. Baines’ ball was pinpoint, but Mirallas still had plenty to do. One superb first touch later, he was in a position to put Chelsea to the sword. And so he did, beating Courtois and sending the travelling Evertonians into raptures.

This was the time to shut up shop, frustrate Chelsea and try to hit them on the break as they changed the game. Martinez missed that. A cheeky back-flick by Cesc Fabregas inside the penalty area almost looped over Tim Howard, but he recovered before Phil Jagielka dived in to block a Pedro effort. Fabregas would soon successfully bamboozle the Everton pair, however. A long ball from the former Arsenal midfielder drifted over the head of the Everton captain, and as he struggled to keep an eye on the flight of the ball he failed to notice Diego Costa and Tim Howard converging on him. The bounce evaded Jagielka, Costa reached the ball before Howard, and the Everton pair collapsed in a heap as the striker was presented with an open goal. Costa had sulked his way through the match, was largely anonymous for the opening hour of play, and spent more time winding up defenders than beating them. But, as he stroked the ball into the empty net, the Spain striker had sparked a fightback.

Everton were not made of sterner stuff. Not for the first time that season, they wilted, and it took Chelsea just two further minutes to find an equaliser. Fabregas played a neat one-two with Costa and hit a shot that was deflected beyond Howard, who had committed too soon and was unable to react as the ball trickled past him.

With 25 minutes left and the game level at 2-2, it was anyone’s guess who – if anyone – would come out on top. Mirallas latched on to a threaded ball straight through the heart of the Chelsea back line, but his attempt to beat Courtois was almost lazy, and didn’t force the home keeper into a dive. At the other end, Costa kicked air as an Azpilicueta square ball failed to reach its potential. The game almost had the unlikeliest of heroes as Jon Obi Mikel struck a shot which swerved wide of Howard’s left-hand post.

Martinez had thrown on Gerard Deulofeu and Steven Pienaar for Barkley and Lennon as Everton searched for a winner, but it was the substitution that preceded the wingers’ entrances that would prove vital. Oviedo had succumbed to injury, meaning Ramiro Funes Mori was called into action as an emergency right-back.

With ten seconds of normal time to go, Deulofeu whipped in a corner which failed to beat the first man. The ball made its way back to the former (and now current) Barcelona winger, whose second attempt was looped towards the waiting Lukaku at the back post. Out of nowhere, Funes Mori swept in to turn the ball into the net with an improvised aerial backheel, and his gymnastics had surely secured Everton the win. Funes Mori and Muhamed Besic leapt into the heaving away end for a round of bear hugs and throat-splitting celebratory screaming, with the former surely having undone the Premier League champions at the last.

You’ll notice I keep saying “surely”. That’s because you know what happens next. And I’m sorry for calling you Shirley.

In the sixth minute of seven added on, Willian’s shot was deflected narrowly wide. Surely that, there, was the potential heartbreaker dealt with. Surely not. Chelsea had one more roll of the dice. A long ball was headed straight up in the air by Mikel, but Branislav Ivanovic reacted quickest to flick on. There was John Terry, on hand to backheel the ball into Howard, somehow through Tim Howard even, and into the net.

Never mind the fact Terry was obviously offside, thanks to the last-second intervention of Oscar. Never mind the fact everyone could see it. It’s all about the narrative.

And what a narrative it turned out to be. Somehow, Everton had thrown away a 2-0 lead, regained the advantage in the dying embers of the game, and yet still failed to take all three points. Weirder still, it wasn’t the first time. Even weirder than that, it wasn’t even the first time that season.

As any long-suffering Evertonian can attest, it ain’t over ‘til it’s over.

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