Saha 33, 75
A Louis Saha brace gave Everton a deserved three points against Carlo Ancelotti’s Chelsea on a riotous evening at Goodison Park. In a frenetic, end-to-end game, the Toffees showed the spirit that was lacking against Liverpool to send the league leaders home empty handed.
Chelsea arrived on Merseyside off the back of an impressive victory over Arsenal, while Everton were smarting from the weekend Derby defeat that left them without Marouane Fellaini through injury and Steven Pienaar through suspension, with Mikel Arteta and Diniyar Bilyaletdinov coming in. Chelsea meanwhile made one change seeing Michael Ballack drop to the bench in place of Yuri Zhirkov.
After Didier Drogba was rightly lauded for his work is dismantling the Gunners’ back four on Sunday, it was Louis Saha’s turn to impress, leading the Everton line with poise and determination and being rewarded with two goals – but for a fluffed penalty, it would have been a fully-merited hat-trick, such was the excellence of the Everton No 8’s display. That missed spot kick was the only blemish on a choice night for the former Manchester United striker, and his swerving, rasping second goal more than made up for his failure from 12 yards.
It was Chelsea who took the lead, Florent Malouda latching on to a Drogba flick to open the scoring in the 17th minute. The 36 000 inside Goodison fell silent, fearing the worst – but instead Everton responded manfully, harrying Chelsea into turning over possession in dangerous areas while John Heitinga in particular stood firm in the face of periodic Chelsea pressure. The Dutchman was comfortably the game’s most impressive defensive presence, far overshadowing John Terry who looked uncertain and made a number of lapses, the last of which let Saha in for the tie’s decisive goal.
Chelsea’s defensive woes were apparent in Everton’s 33rd minute equaliser. Saha was allowed to make an unchallenged near post run and powered a header past the helpless Petr Cech. The goalkeeper was forced into action 10 minutes later, saving Saha’s tame penalty after Landon Donovan drew a foul from Ricardo Carvalho just inside the area. With the sides equal at half-time, the question was which team would come out the traps in the second period the strongest.
Bilyaletdinov’s cross-shot answered that one, a looping delivery from the left that Cech had to palm away for a corner. The game degenerated into a midfield slugfest with Everton’s high-tempo not letting the visitors settle and creating half-chances from hopeful balls, such as the one Saha blasted into the ground in the 50th minute, while Drogba saw an outlandish effort from at least 40 yards fly into the Gladwys Street stand five minutes later. Both strikers were their side’s main goal threats, but it was Saha who made the difference in the 75th minute.
After going behind, Chelsea responded with a barrage of long balls and crosses into the Everton box but only had a Drogba header that crashed off the bar and a Frank Lampard drive to show for their efforts. Everton, and the superlative Heitinga in particular, refused to be intimidated and confirmed an unexpected but warranted three points.