Ellis Simms scores late leveller to rescue vital point for Everton at Chelsea

<span>Photograph: Clive Rose/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: Clive Rose/Getty Images

A hero is no less welcome for being so unlikely. Ellis Simms has looked a forlorn figure since returning to Goodison Park, but he came off the bench to score an equaliser that lifted Everton to 15th, two points clear of the relegation zone.

Simms had scored seven goals in 14 starts on loan at Sunderland earlier before being recalled by Frank Lampard prior to his sacking.

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Given the dearth of firepower at Everton, that made a certain sense, but over the past two months, he had been limited to just 102 minutes of football.

His one start came away at Liverpool, when he was asked to play a lone striker role that really didn’t suit him. Big he may be, but chasing lost causes is not his style.

Here, replacing Idrissa Gueye after 79 minutes, the 22-year-old showed what he can do with players closer to him, taking a short pass from Abdoulaye Doucouré, before brushing off Kalidou Koulibaly as he cut infield to score his first goal for the club.

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“It’s about patience,” said Simms. “I just had to wait for my chance. We’ve got top players so I’m not going to walk straight into the team, I have to work hard and take my chance when I get it. It’s massive belief, staying united and sticking together when it gets tough.”

Simms had approached Sean Dyche in midweek to ask what he needed to do to get more time on the pitch. Dyche responded by asking him what he thought he needed to improve and Simms offered four areas, to each of which Dyche agreed.

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“He’s quick, he’s strong but he used it,” he said. “You have to go and work at your game and he’s doing that. He got his reward for working hard and fighting hard. The physical side is a challenge for him.”

Dyche spoke of the “relentless attitude” and “improving mentality” of his side but, impressive as this point ultimately was, by the time they visit Manchester United on 8 April, it will be six months since they last won away.

For Chelsea, this was yet another game this season in which they bossed possession, had the bulk of the chances and somehow failed to win. The difference was that this time they scored twice and the problems were at the other end. “Ultimately we haven’t defended well enough,” Graham Potter said. “To be cheap with the goals we conceded is frustrating.”

Related: Graham Potter at Chelsea is lovely PR – but is it misdirection before the big plot twist? | Barney Ronay

João Félix was, again, mesmerising, and in he and Enzo Fernández Chelsea have two players of immaculate touch. They’re always on the half-turn, capable of finding space where none seems to exist, and both blessed with a remarkable range of passing.

But there are times when Chelsea seem almost beguiled by their own virtuosity, creating gorgeous networks of passes that often end up, 30 seconds or a minute after they began, back where they started.

The great Chelsea shortcoming is not secret. Indeed, it’s a question that’s been asked for so long by so many different people in the south of England that it’s come to seem one of the most profound questions of the age: why is it that Potter teams score so few goals?

Almost nothing in football, though, has just one answer. The Potter Conundrum intersects with a feature of Chelsea that long pre-dates him, which is that they are extremely reliant on the wing-backs for penetration. Chelsea have won 55% of games when Reece James and Ben Chilwell have both played this season as opposed to 36% when they have not.

Chilwell was key to the opener, his attempt to square Fernández’s sumptuous pass scuffed to João Félix. He didn’t catch his finish cleanly either but he is such a naturally elegant player that there was still something aesthetically pleasing anyway in the way the ball trickled in off the far post, Everton players strewn about its path.

It was James who was vital to Chelsea regaining their lead, tripped for a penalty that Kai Havertz converted.

In between, Everton had equalised with a typical Dyche goal, Doucouré flicking in James Tarkowski’s header back across goal following a corner. But this was about Simms, his maiden goal and, if only from the bench, the intriguing option of playing two up front.