As Joao Felix crept a shot between the legs of James Tarkowski and beyond the outstretched Jordan Pickford, the palpable feeling among Everton fans was almost unanimous.
For 52 minutes at Stamford Bridge, the Toffees had hung in with the stoicism and resolve that Sean Dyche has embodied since arriving as manager. But after Chelsea took the lead, any hope of salvaging a result jettisoned. Even the most optimistic of supporters may have felt that way.
Goals have been at a premium this season - it’s a chief reason why Everton are locked in another Premier League relegation battle. Yet results and performances on the road have contributed substantially to the predicament. Just one league victory on the Blues’ travels - and a meagre three since August 2021 - highlight how lacklustre things have truly been.
Combine those two facets and it’s scarcely surprising why the promise of picking up something in west London evaporated after Felix had opened the scoring. Plenty felt that if Everton were to return to Merseyside with something, they either had to scrap out a goalless stalemate or score the first goal.
The Toffees succumbed to Liverpool and Arsenal after conceding first. And while they earned a 2-2 draw at Nottingham Forest, Everton had led twice but could not hold on. Another setback at Chelsea appeared in the offing.
Speaking at his pre-match press conference, Dyche was at pains to stress that a shift in mentality is required if Everton are going to start picking up results away from Goodison Park. While the Grand Old Lady will be imperative to the Blues’ survival chances, matches on the road cannot simply be surrendered. Every point on offer matters - it could prove the difference between staying up or suffering the drop.
But in the remaining five games on the road this season, fans may now have changed their mindset. What was witnessed at Chelsea was Dyche’s methods are working. The frame of mind is turning, which has been arguably his biggest challenge.
Granted, Everton had come back from a goal behind to win at Southampton in their only away triumph of the campaign while Demarai Gray’s sumptuous finish also earned a 1-1 draw at Manchester City on New Year’s Eve. Yet there has been an overwhelming feeling that Everton will lose away encounters if breached first.
That sentiment is now markedly different after the 2-2 draw against Chelsea. Not only did Everton fight back once through Abdoulaye Doucoure, but they displayed the steel and determination to cancel out a Kai Havertz penalty when substitute Ellis Simms bagged an 89th-minute equaliser off the bench. When the 22-year-old striker found the back of the net, those who made the trip to the capital were sent into raptures. Ellis Simms has now been given the moniker Ellis Limbs because of the wild celebrations he sparked in the away section of Stamford Bridge.
Dyche has persistently said that he has inherited a talented group of players since taking the reins at the end of January. In truth, it might be the best squad, on paper, he’s ever worked with during his managerial career. Yet shifting the mentality may have been as much of an obstacle as rectifying a leaky defence and augmenting Everton’s attacking threat.
The comeback at Chelsea was stark evidence that both are underway. If the Toffees do go behind in their trip to Manchester United on 8 April, the resignation of defeat will be no longer.