AMSTERDAM — Landon Donovan notched another assist and Tim Howard extended his Goodison Park shutout run to 256 minutes as Everton climbed into the better half of the EPL table with a 2-0 victory over visiting Chelsea on Saturday afternoon.
Two years and one day ago, the Toffees scored a 2-1 home win over Chelsea that included another Donovan assist. With four saves and some heady cross management, Howard ensured Everton did it one better this time. The US No. 1 has now won three straight home league clashes with the Blues.
Not long after Donovan whistled a shot by the post on four minutes, the home side took the lead through fellow loan returnee Steven Pienaar. The LA Galaxy midfielder made a bid to double the lead on 18 minutes, testing Chelsea netminder Petr Cech with a left-footed drive from long range.
The visitors gradually took control of first half play, but — in part aided by Donovan tracking back faithfully to defend — Everton allowed precious few open looks at Howard's goal. The Toffees goalkeeper denied Daniel Sturridge and Fernando Torres before the break, then repeated the feat on Spain's struggling striker past the hour.
With 19 minutes to play, Donovan wiggled his way toward the Chelsea box before expertly slipping Denis Stracqualursi in to fire the first goal of his EPL career. His insurance set-up gave the Everton No. 9 shirt a third assist in the last five league games and six in nine matches across all competitions since returning to the club last month.
In winning consecutive home games for the first time this season, Everton pulled level on points with ninth-place Sunderland. The Toffees are now unbeaten in six heading into next weekend's FA Cup round-of-16 visit from regional rivals Blackpool.
Elsewhere, Fulham attack engine Clint Dempsey may have a bone to pick with the official scorer after his long-range dipper was ruled an own-goal, although it still stood up to beat guests Stoke City 2-1.
With the Cottagers already up one through 27 minutes thanks to a debut goal from Pavel Pogrebnyak, Dempsey's 27-yard launch from space found its way in after hitting the crossbar and then Stoke netminder Thomas Sørensen. Replays showed the shot was on target and touched onto the woodwork by Sørensen, but for the time being at least, there has been no official change on the own goal ruling as of yet. The US star was also foiled from scoring near full time when his effort caught the post.
The US star was a nuisance to the Potters all afternoon, helping Fulham make it five wins from the last seven league games at home while also rising to 12th place.
Brad Friedel put in a strong performance that may not even have been needed as Tottenham kept pressure on the top two with a 5-0 shredding of fifth-place Newcastle. Now unbeaten in 12 at home, the veteran netminder denied Magpies ace Demba Ba three times, including a dazzling save on the striker's late doorstep header.
One league below in the Championship, Robbie Findley worked 15 relief minutes as Nottingham Forest settled for a 1-1 draw with visiting Watford.
The Reds managed to snap a 559-minute goal drought at City Ground by opening the scoring early, but could not overcome the equalizer. Findley looked to have a golden chance to play hero in stoppage time, but he mishandled a breakaway pass as Forest remained winless at home since mid-November.
Across the channel in Ligue 1, Charlie Davies appeared for Sochaux for the first time since October of 2009, logging 12 active minutes as the cellar-dwellers dropped a 1-0 decision at Rennes. The forward did well late to earn shooting space from a long ball, only to put his attempt at an equalizer well over on the half-volley.
Heading back to the United Kingdom, Carlos Bocanegra and Maurice Edu each notched an assist as Rangers stayed four points off the top with a 4-1 victory against Dunfermline.
Again among the Light Blues' top performers, Edu breached the home area through combo play before delivering a ball for David Healy to pull them level on 24 minutes. Shortly before the break, Bocanegra flicked on a free kick for Lee McCulloch to stick in the winner.
Moving to the Bundesliga, Steve Cherundolo and Hannover 96 rallied at the death for a 1-1 share at Mainz 05. The skipper made an important clearance off the line mere seconds out of intermission to help Die Roten move to eight games without a loss.
Conversely, Fabian Johnson and Daniel Williams were forced to settle for a 1-1 draw as Hoffenheim leaked a last-gasp equalizer at Werder Bremen.
With Joseph Gyau watching on from the bench, Hoffenheim were denied their first win in over two months when Marko Arnautović capitalized on a misplayed long ball near time. Williams worked a forceful shift in defensive midfield, while Johnson went the distance with less success at left back.
It was a student's day of lessons for Hertha Berlin right back Alfredo Morales in the 10-man away side's 5-0 loss at rampant Stuttgart.
Making his third Bundesliga start, the youngster departed at halftime with the Blue-Whites down a man and four goals. It was Morales' yellow card foul that facilitated Stuttgart's 25th-minute opener, and after Hertha midfielder Andreas Ottl had been shown red, was beaten by Japan winger Shinji Okazaki for a headed third.
Over in Portugal's first division, road woes continued for Oguchi Onyewu and Sporting CP with a 2-0 loss at Marítimo.
The American center back saw yellow midway through the opening frame and was among those pulled out of position on the home side's second-half capper. The Lions moved to five games winless on the road in Liga Zon Sagres play, and have won just once in the last nine away contests overall.
In Eredivisie action, Jozy Altidore worked a menacing 15 minutes off the bench in AZ Alkmaar's 2-0 win over Excelsior.
The US striker nearly piled on from close range in the late going, but the away keeper sprawled to make a quality save. Though the Rotterdam side continued their habit of giving AZ worlds of trouble, two second-half goals inside two minutes from Maarten Martens tentatively lifted the Cheese Farmers to a three-point lead over Sunday combatants PSV Eindhoven.