Captain fantastic Terry gets Chelsea off the hook

Confusion reigned in the press room at Stamford Bridge after Chelsea kept their place at the top of the Premier League table with a last-gasp winner to beat Everton.

Nobody knew who had scored.

Was it an own goal by Tim Howard? Does it go to Frank Lampard even though the ball changed direction by 90 degrees? Or did John Terry poke it into the Everton net to send the crowd wild?

Terry certainly claimed it, both in the celebrations on the pitch and his post-match interview.

In the 92nd minute, it was the kind of goal that some might call lucky but in reality owes more to sheer desire and will to win.

And Terry, just like his manager, is a winner. It’s the mentality of champions and it’s why Chelsea are increasingly emerging as favourites to claim the league title this season.

Terry is 33 and out of contract in the summer, but he has been reborn since Mourinho returned to the club.

There were some figures at Chelsea who sensed a few months ago that Roman Abramovich was ready to allow Terry to leave for nothing at the end of the season, rather than throw more of his petrodollars towards a new contract.

But the central defender’s form has been impossible to ignore lately. Organised, brave, comfortable on the ball and a true leader.

Even from the stands, as Everton attacked here on Saturday, Terry could be heard barking instructions at his team-mates, making sure everyone took up exactly the right positions.

There is little doubt that Chelsea must now look to keep Terry at all costs for at least one more season. He is the leader of the team and something about Mourinho brings out the very best in him.

Mourinho’s unbeaten record in home league games as Chelsea manager now stands at an astonishing 74 matches and he has led the club to 150 victories in total. The Portuguese has also won the league whenever his side have been at the summit of the table at the end of February.

The signs are looking ominous for Chelsea’s rivals, but the glimmer of hope is one glaring weakness in this team.

Everyone knows what Mourinho means when he talks of “obvious limitations” in his side and it was evident again as Chelsea looked to be drifting towards a goalless draw before Terry’s late winner.

“My team does not score many goals, I think we were not in a position to score two goals if Everton scored,” said Mourinho in his post-match press conference.

“If we only got one point today, we would have lost top position. The difference is very small – if you win the game, you keep your position.

“If we’d drawn, I think we would have been third a few hours later.”

Chelsea are top of the table yet their two main strikers, Samuel Eto’o and Fernando Torres, have scored just 10 league goals between them this season.

Eto’o struggled to escape the attentions of the Everton defence here, only working one real chance when he fired straight at Howard, while Torres looked as threatening as a fluffy teddy bear after coming on as a substitute.

When Chelsea sign a top class striker in the summer – which they surely will – this team will be almost complete.

For now, though, they will have to stumble through until the end of the season in the knowledge that they could have run away with the title with a 20-goal a season striker in their ranks.

Mourinho very publicly chased Wayne Rooney last summer and again made a move in January, and he might have been rueing the Manchester United striker’s decision to sign a new contract as the clocked ticked over the 90 minute mark.

But with the likes of Eden Hazard, they still have just about enough to sneak through tight games with moments of brilliance, and with men like John Terry they have the winning mentality – the been there, done it attitude – to do it through sheer willpower.

That in itself is almost priceless – and with Hazard committed for the long-term, Chelsea should also make sure Terry is tied down at the earliest opportunity.