By Robert O'Connor, PA
Everton ended Chelsea’s winning run with a dramatic late equaliser from substitute Ellis Simms at Stamford Bridge to bolster their hopes of Premier League survival.
The 22-year-old outmuscled Kalidou Koulibaly to steal in and make it 2-2 in the 89th minute, after Kai Havertz’s penalty looked to have made it four victories in a row for Graham Potter’s side.
Joao Felix gave Chelsea the lead early in the second half of a match they had dominated up to that point, before being pegged back by Abdoulaye Doucoure’s headed goal.
FT. Ellis Simms’ late strike earns a big point on the road. Onwards, Evertonians! 👊
🦁 2-2 🔵 #CHEEVE pic.twitter.com/mUNkCT817N
— Everton (@Everton) March 18, 2023
The hosts were again left to rue missed opportunities, with their fluid attacking play blunted by a lack of killer instinct inside the box.
The first roar of anticipation from a noisy home support came early. Michael Keane’s headed clearance from a Ben Chilwell corner dropped to the edge of the box, from where it was crashed narrowly wide of goal via a leaping volley from Mateo Kovacic.
Christian Pulisic, back in the team for the first time in two months, got in down the left and pulled the ball back for Chilwell to prod it towards the stretching Felix, whose contact was just too slight to turn it past Jordan Pickford.
The breadth of Chelsea’s play challenged Everton’s defensive organisation, attacking fluidly down either flank with Reece James and Chilwell at their incisive, energetic best. Enzo Fernandez hit short and long balls with deadly precision, and Felix stretched the visitors with his mesmerising close control.
Yet for all Chelsea’s endeavour, a first-half goal would not arrive. Felix – through whom every promising attack seemed to flow – tried with a drilled effort from 18 yards that flew straight into Pickford’s gloves. A clever free-kick move ended with a low shot from Fernandez which was blocked.
The hosts had started the game in the bottom half of the table but a winning run and at last a sense that Potter knows his favoured starting XI and shape had lifted the mood of Stamford Bridge. Even with Raheem Sterling out injured, they attacked like a team comfortable in one another’s company, full of spirit and belief.
The second half opened with more Chelsea pressure. Chilwell, excellent again throughout, crossed from the left and Havertz rose to power a header low at goal which was beaten out by Pickford. On the rebound, Keane narrowly beat Felix to the ball and cleared.
The goal was the architecture of Chelsea’s two best players. Fernandez hit another sublime pass which fell perfectly onto the left foot of Chilwell, who cushioned his cross into the middle. Keane was first to the ball for Everton but the defender was too off-balance to make good contact. His half-clearance reached Felix, who took a touch, took aim and with deft precision rolled the ball home off Pickford’s far post.
Keane almost made amends at once for his defensive lapse, freeing himself from his marker as the ball was whipped in by Demarai Gray but failing to make the contact the cross deserved.
The visitors were encouraged, and 20 minutes from time they were level. A corner from the right was met by James Tarkowski muscling above Chelsea’s defence to get his head to the ball, and as it dropped into the six-yard box Doucoure acted quickest to nod it over the line, as Havertz tried in vain to hook clear.
Chelsea responded like a team buoyed by new confidence. James won a penalty when he was barrelled to the ground by Tarkowski. That handed Havertz the chance to restore the lead, which he duly took, sending Pickford the wrong way.
But Everton would not be beaten. A minute from the end, Doucoure played the ball to Simms, who darted beyond a weak challenge from Koulibaly and side-footed past Kepa Arrizabalaga to secure what could be a priceless point in Everton’s battle for survival.