Frank Lampard proved his enduring worth to Chelsea by scoring twice in a hard-fought 2-1 win at Everton on Sunday, keeping his team on the fringes of the Premier League title race.
Having fallen behind to Steven Pienaar's goal after just 63 seconds, Chelsea had the 34-year-old Lampard to thank for securing a fourth straight win to maintain the momentum under interim manager Rafa Benitez.
The England midfielder, who has yet to be offered an extension to a contract that expires in June, headed in a 42nd-minute equalizer from Ramires' cross and grabbed the winner in the 72nd by turning the ball high into the net from close range after Juan Mata's shot was saved by goalkeeper Tim Howard.
The double will undoubtedly increase speculation about the future of Lampard, a mainstay at Chelsea since joining the London club in 2001. Injury has restricted him to 11 league appearances this season, but Chelsea hasn't lost any of them and he has now scored six times.
"I know there is a lot of speculation and talk but I just want to continue playing," said Lampard, one of the most prolific midfielders in Premier League history. "I will always have Chelsea in me for life."
Everton lost its unbeaten home record this season but deserved at least a point, with Croatia striker Nikica Jelavic twice hitting the goal frame and missing a golden chance in stoppage time to equalize. The hosts, who last lost at Goodison Park in March to Arsenal, could have gone above their opponents with a win.
Chelsea, though, showed its improving resilience under Benitez to stay third - four points behind second-place Manchester City and 11 adrift of Manchester United with a game in hand on both.
"It was huge, especially after the sloppy start," Lampard said. "This is always one of the most difficult games of the season. The lads dug in, held their own, and we made our own luck."
Chelsea struggled to match Everton's intensity in the opening half hour and was lucky not to be more than one goal behind.
Pienaar's goal came when he followed up Victor Anichebe's header against the post and rammed a fierce shot low past goalkeeper Petr Cech, who was forced off with a reported ankle injury at halftime.
Jelavic curled a free kick against the post and had a shot tipped around the post before Lampard made one of his trademark late runs into the box, meeting Ramires' centering cross with a well-directed header into the corner.
Jelavic was again denied by the goal frame in the 69th minute, his header from a left-wing cross by the elusive Leighton Baines crashing against the bar. And Lampard added to Everton's pain when he scooped a finish high into the net following Howard's block from Mata.
Chelsea coped with a late bombardment but was lucky Jelavic scuffed a shot from seven yards straight into the hands of Ross Turnbull, Cech's replacement, in injury time.