Everton signed off at Goodison Park for the year with a battling 0-0 draw at home to Chelsea on Saturday. With another clean sheet stretching the unbeaten run to seven matches over all competitions, this was the clearest example to date of the sterling defensive rebuild carried out by manager Sam Allardyce.
Before Allardyce took charge, Everton had two clean sheets in 14 league games this season. This goalless draw marked the third clean sheet in five league games under Allardyce. There have been five clean sheets and just two goals conceded in this seven-match unbeaten sequence.
Not so long ago Everton were conceding an average of three goals a game and on a run of one win in 12 matches. The sight of players scrapping, blocking, tackling and lunging their way to a hard-earned point shows how far this team has come since embarrassingly shipping four goals at Southampton less than a month ago.
Allardyce has improved the back line to such an extent that the absence in the starting XI of Mason Holgate and Ashley Williams through illness caused no disruption whatsoever. Phil Jagielka and Michael Keane simply picked up the mantle and seamlessly slotted into a well-drilled defensive unit. Everton also coped without Idrissa Gueye for most of the second
Tactical changes at half-time failed to have the desired effect as adding another striker left the midfield outmatched. As such, any realistic hopes of victory ended when Gueye departed injured a few minutes into the second half. Everton ended the match without a shot on target in a home-league game for the first time since December 2011.
Manager rating out of 10
6 -- While Allardyce saw his players resolutely demonstrate their newfound defensive capabilities, the half-time upheaval did more harm than good for Everton from an attacking sense.
Player ratings (1-10; 10=best. Players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)
GK Jordan Pickford, 8 -- Thrust back into the thick of the action after a few relatively straightforward matches in recent weeks, the Everton goalkeeper preserved the clean sheet with a succession of sharp saves throughout the match.
DF Jonjoe Kenny, 7 -- His awareness when defending the far post is an underrated quality and such a useful asset for a full-back. Solid defensive display outweighed the occasional misstep in possession.
DF Michael Keane, 8 -- The returning centre-back impressed at the heart of the defence as a game-high eight interceptions displayed his accomplished reading of the game. Wasted a golden chance at the other end in the closing minutes.
DF Phil Jagielka, 8 -- Back in the starting XI for the first time since the Southampton defeat, the 35-year-old cleared off the line twice in quick succession in the first half and excelled in keeping a mobile Chelsea attack subdued.
DF Cuco Martina, 7 -- Tucked in too close to his centre-backs in the first half as the visitors constantly pressed forward down his flank. Much improved in the second half and defended well in one-on-one situations.
MF Idrissa Gueye, 7 -- Continued fine form before a worrying-looking injury curtailed his afternoon barely five minutes into the second half. His absence for any significant length of time would be a massive blow.
MF Morgan Schneiderlin, 8 -- This was his best performance of the season by some distance as the defensive midfielder patrolled the pitch with a level of conviction not seen since last season. This display needs to spark some consistency, as no two performances are the same at present.
MF Aaron Lennon, 6 -- Industrious as ever before his surprise withdrawal at half-time, the winger never quite registered as an attacking threat but continues to work well with Kenny on the right flank.
MF Tom Davies, 5 -- Recalled in place of an ill Wayne Rooney, Davies seemed to be trying too hard to impress and conceded possession in dangerous areas. Dragged a shot wide on one of the few occasions the midfield opened up around him.
MF Gylfi Sigurdsson, 7 -- Unable to add to his recent spate of goals and assists as the home side struggled to establish an attacking foothold, the midfielder nonetheless demonstrated the phenomenal work rate that remains a constant feature of his game.
FW Dominic Calvert-Lewin, 6 -- Battled hard in spite of near-constant isolation but lacked quality in key moments and wasted two promising openings through poor decision-making.
DF Ashley Williams, 7 -- Close to a spectacular own goal as a misdirected header glanced the crossbar. Otherwise, the experienced centre-back settled quickly and cleared a shot off the line with his first involvement.
FW Sandro Ramirez, 5 -- Starved of service throughout a willing 45-minute outing and needs more time to show what he can do.
MF Beni Baningime, 5 -- Worked hard in midfield but struggled to catch up to the pace of the game at times.