Richarlison’s goal and Jordan Pickford’s heroics between the posts breathed life into Everton’s Premier League survival bid as the Toffees beat Chelsea 1-0 at Goodison Park.
Burnley’s dramatic win over Watford on Saturday left Everton five points from safety with two games in hand, and despite being underdogs for the visit of Chelsea, Frank Lampard’s side rose to the challenge.
There were four more yellow cards than there were shots on target during a bruising first half, but the entertainment ramped up after the interval thanks to Richarlison’s composed opener.
Vitalii Mykolenko wasted the chance to make it 2-0 before Pickford produced two stunning saves to keep Everton in charge as they ultimately held on to a potentially vital win.
A feisty opening period produced little goal-mouth excitement, with the most gripping incident arguably being the prolonged confrontation between the two sets of players after Mason Mount fouled Yerry Mina, with Seamus Coleman and Cesar Azpilicueta booked for going head-to-head.
The lively Anthony Gordon had gone close a few moments earlier, though, shooting just wide of the bottom-right corner after cutting in off the right flank.
That was at least evidence of some Everton intent, and that – coupled with their desire to scrap – earned them the lead just after half-time, as Richarlison robbed Azpilicueta and coolly swept past Edouard Mendy after Demarai Gray set him free.
Mykolenko inexplicably shot wide from close range a few moments later, before Pickford took centre-stage.
First, he incredibly denied Azpilicueta’s rebound effort right on the line after Mount’s shot hit both posts, then blocked a point-blank Antonio Rudiger strike with his face.
Finally, he got down well right near the end to keep Mateo Kovacic’s goal-bound attempt out.
What does it mean?
Everton were not exceptional in terms of dominating or creating chances, but the spirit they displayed on Sunday was spectacular at times.
Chelsea were always going to be in for a tricky game, as demonstrated by Everton fans’ firework antics outside their hotel on Saturday night, but perhaps they were not expecting the sheer willingness to fight for virtually everything.
It was a gripping and gruelling encounter that could well have saved Everton’s season as Lampard became only the second former Chelsea manager to beat the Blues in his first Premier League match against them – Leeds United are now just two points ahead of them having played an extra game.
Pickford pick of the bunch
There were several outstanding performers for Everton, with Richarlison, Gordon and Gray all impressive in their own right, but it’s impossible to look beyond Pickford as the key figure.
The England goalkeeper made three utterly priceless saves in the second half, including one in stoppage time. Had a poorer stopper been in the net, Everton surely would have lost this.
Culpable for Everton’s goal, Azpilicueta had a bad day all around. He failed to beat Pickford when Mount’s effort came back to him and more than once he got involved in needless confrontations that only seemed to energize the hosts and their fans.