Lion well and truly killed.
Strange though it is to say, Chelsea have been unlucky this season. Late goals have mostly been for the opposition, turning close leads into dropped points, and we'd been seemingly unable to rescue points in games in which we were being held. The closest we'd come to a late winner in the league was Eden Hazard's 75th-minute penalty against Queens Park Rangers.
So despite Everton going down to ten men after Gareth Barry had been sent off, it simply didn't feel as though the Blues were going to claim a win. Sure, it was Stamford Bridge and no team had failed to keep us out there this season, but time was ticking away, the seconds whizzing by in exactly the opposite way they do when you're nursing a narrow lead. And then it happened.
Willian's winner was easily our biggest goal of the season. Nothing else can match it for importance, nothing can match it for sheer catharsis. With a low, deflected effort, the Brazilian turned that gnawing block of dread tumbling in everyone's collective stomachs into nothing so much as ebullient glee.
But to fully appreciate just how good that goal felt, I suppose we'll have to start from the beginning.
Everton are, on form, the best defensive side in the Premier League. They've grown a great deal since that nine-goal slugfest we enjoyed and they endured at Goodison Park and have learned to kill off games. That was evident from their 0-0 draw against Liverpool on the weekend, and it was evident again here, albeit in less impressive fashion.
Chelsea didn't find it easy to test Tim Howard, but at least part of that was due to referee Jon Moss, who in time-honoured tradition failed to give us a penalty after an obvious, obvious foul. This time the culprit was Steven Naismith, who for reasons that are not entirely clear decided to wave his arm at a bouncing ball and ended up deflecting it out of the area with his upper arm.
Juan 'Johnny Squares' Cuadrado was thoroughly bemused by this turn of events, which constituted a comprehensive introduction to the standards of refereeing in the country, but Moss wasn't the only reason the Blues found it difficult to break through. Although Hazard was inches away from turning in a cross and Howard made a decent stop from Loïc Rémy, most of our shooting was slightly wayward, from impossible angles, or both.
The best chance of the half, however, fell to Everton, with the ever-so-slightly offside Romelu Lukaku running away from John Terry and onto a rare defence-splitting pass. A triumph on his homecoming, however, was denied by Petr Cech, who saved well with his feet to prevent what would have been a very annoying goal.
The visitors were getting worked in midfield, with both Muhamed Besic and Gareth Barry booked by the 25-minute mark, and for a brief spell it looked as though they'd be overrun. But the big chance and the goal that felt imminent simply refused to come, and Everton were allowed to limp their way to the interval on level terms.
Roberto Martinez had the chance to make an important adjustment and immediately took it, throwing on James McCarthy for the impetuous Besic. Chelsea, previously free and easy, albeit with nothing to show for it but a collection of Evertonian cards, found the wheels gummed up in midfield thanks to the substitution, and we settled in for what was a thoroughly stodgy half.
Stodgy, that is, until an astonishing save from Cech saved the match. It was the 68th minute when Lukaku somehow found himself completely clear in the six-yard box just after a corner. The Belgian met Bryan Oviedo's cross* cleanly and looked certain to score before Cech thrust out a foot to keep the shot at bay, letting Chelsea regroup. Didier Drogba and Cesc Fabregas came on for Cuadrado and Rémy, and the Blues pushed forward once more.
*Set up by a stupendous first-time pass from McCarthy.
Chances were still few and far between. Nemanja Matic saw an excellent free kick parried behind by Howard, then a hopeful effort from the top of the box find the back of the net via deflection only to be ruled out (correctly) for a Branislav Ivanovic offside. With the news that City were in the process of a 4-1 demolition job of Stoke City, we needed to score lest we throw away the gains made over the weekend.
A red card gave us crucial momentum. Barry had been on thin ice all match and finally got what was coming to him after fouling Willian in the 88th minute, sparking a general melee which has already made the news for faux-headbutt reasons. But that's a story for another time, because what really mattered was that Chelsea took the lead immediately afterwards.
The free kick wasn't very good, but it wasn't well dealt with by the Toffees, whose partial clearance only made it back out to Willian. Sick, perhaps, of delivering early crosses to nobody, he opted to shoot, low and hard. Naismith, perhaps, provided a crucial touch in directing the ball past Howard and just inside the post, but nevermind that -- it was the late winner we'd been craving all season, and Stamford Bridge erupted in celebration.
The four minutes of injury time that followed might as well not have existed for all that I remember of them. Seven points clear. Thirteen games to play. Tick tock, City.