Sunday 15 December 2019

Seamus Coleman injury blow as Lukaku sinks City

Everton 2 Manchester City 1

Everton's Ramiro Funes Mori celebrates scoring the opening goal during the match against Manchester City. Photo: Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images
Everton's Ramiro Funes Mori celebrates scoring the opening goal during the match against Manchester City. Photo: Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images
Manchester City's Argentinian striker Sergio Aguero, left, faces Everton's Bosnian midfielder Muhamed Besic during the League Cup semi-final first leg match at Goodison Park. Photo: Paul Ellis/AFP.
Manchester City's Jesus Navas scores his team's first goal during the clash with Everton at Goodison Park. Photo: Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images
Everton's Irish defender Seamus Coleman, right, takes on Manchester City's Spanish midfielder David Silva during their League Cup semi-final first leg football. Photo: Paul Ellis/AFP/Getty Images

Jason Burt

The primal roar at the end spoke volumes of just how much this victory, however slender, meant to Everton.

The Toffees go into the second leg of their League Cup semi-final with a precious lead over Manchester City in a competition they have never won, despite their rich history, and with the prospect of an all-Merseyside final.

But beware. City are far from beaten. They will be at home on January 27 and even when not playing well carry a formidable goal threat.

If this leg of the semi-final was tense, with Everton playing out the final minutes with 10-men after Seamus Coleman's injury, then the return could be even more fraught.

Coleman limped off near the end with a calf injury and afterwards Everton manager Roberto Martinez confirmed that the Irish international could be sidelined for up to four weeks, which means he is almost certain to miss the second leg.

There was a rare edge to Martinez's programme notes as he spoke about how Goodison Park can be "intimidating for opposing teams to come to and, at times, it can be testing for our own players".

As exciting as this Everton team are, there is a sense of disquiet from the fans with just three home wins in the league from 11 matches this season.

They are, it is felt, underachieving. Potential needs to be realised. And when better than in a semi-final?

It was a theme picked up by Phil Jagielka, who wrote of the "anxiety" the players had also detected and, inevitably, having tempted fate, it quickly emerged again as City took an immediate hold on possession and Everton were pushed deep into their own half.

With their luminous kit, it was City issuing all the warning signs and the home fans were quietened even further as Ross Barkley pulled up injured. Eventually he returned. But City did not return the ball. Not yet anyway.

With David Silva restored, and metronomic, and Kevin De Bruyne pushing forward, they remained utterly dominant although the hope for Everton was that the visitors had not created an opportunity to test Joel Robles, who had replaced the under-fire Tim Howard in goal.

Everton needed a foothold and it was evident in the roar that accompanied them winning a corner that their supporters thought so too. But it was from a City corner that the first opportunity arose, with Nicolas Otamendi stealing forward to bounce a header narrowly wide.


Finally Everton eked out an opening with Gerard Deulofeu finding Romelu Lukaku who, with a sight of goal, tried to cut back inside Otamendi but was superbly dispossessed. He should have shot.

Before that, the only other ripple of excitement had been when Muhamed Besic, Everton's most impressive performer, had taken down Yaya Toure in full flow.

Everton had the ball in the net, with John Stones turning home Ramiro Funes Mori's header back across goal from a Leighton Baines free-kick, but the Argentinian was rightly pulled up for offside.

Then Everton had the ball in the net again. Again it was correctly ruled offside with Lukaku too far forward as he collected another smart pass from Deulofeu.

But both incidents confirmed that the momentum had swung and, astonishingly, Everton found the net a third time on the strike of half-time. Most importantly, this one stood.

A corner was swung in and the ball ran beyond the goal to Barkley, whose powerful cross-shot was beaten out by Willy Caballero but only as far as Funes Mori, who swept it home.

City appealed for another offside, but the goal was given and Goodison erupted. Still there was some doubt as Lukaku, who had been in another offside position, had moved towards the ball. Under the current interpretation of the law he could have been deemed to have been offside, but the flag stayed down.

Everton were emphatically in the ascendancy and that prompted Manuel Pellegrini to rejig his approach, going for more pace as Jesus Navas replaced Fabian Delph.

There was a clever run from Barkley who feinted to shoot, sending Toure to the turf, tricking Martin Demichelis - on for Eliaquim Mangala, who was again substituted - only for Caballero to smother the danger.

City should have been awarded a penalty on 70 minutes when Navas was tripped by Everton substitute Mirallas, only for the referee to dismiss the visitors' appeals.

Pellegrini reacted furiously on the touchline, berating the assistant referee, but his team were level six minutes later when Navas raced on to Aguero's through ball to score his first goal since September 2014 by guiding a left-foot shot past Robles.

It appeared to be a City lifeline, but Lukaku - finally getting onside - restored Everton's lead with a bullet header from Gareth Barry's 78th-minute cross.

Twelve goals in 12 games for Lukaku but this was the most important.

Everton deserved to reclaim the lead and take an advantage to the Etihad later this month, but this is a tie with plenty of life in it yet.

Martinez said: "It means nothing. We had to win our first game; now we have to prepare for a very interesting second leg."

The Everton boss dismissed concerns about Funes Mori's strike, though, insisting it was "a clear goal" and adding: "The goal was coming at that point, we had a strong period and had two goals disallowed."

Reflecting on Lukaku's outstanding scoring run, Martinez said: "The stats are there to back any assessment about Romelu. He's always been, in our eyes, the perfect striker for our team, that's why we invested so heavily in a young man. He wants to be the best in the world and it's a joy to see him enjoying his football and scoring goals."

(© Daily Telegraph, London)

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