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Everton’s Romelu Lukaku pounces to leave Manchester City with uphill task

Manuel Pellegrini’s problems with Catalonian coaches do not cease with Pep Guardiola. Roberto Martínez called on Goodison Park to overcome recent anxieties, show faith in his Everton team and intimidate Manchester City in the Capital One Cup semi-final. His players obliged too, and the tantalising prospect of an all-Merseyside final remains alive following a merited first-leg victory over the competition favourites.

“I wouldn’t be that foolish,” said the Everton manager when asked to entertain the idea of facing Liverpool at Wembley next month. A wise move.

Goals from Ramiro Funes Mori and the irrepressible Romelu Lukaku, his 19th of the season, sandwiched a rare composed finish from Jesús Navas to give Martínez the advantage he craved and the tangible reward he needed to convince the growing doubters. But both semi-finals remain precariously balanced and it was a confident – though aggrieved –Pellegrini who stated afterwards that City required only a 1-0 win at the Etihad Stadium to advance (after extra time) and would not deserve to reach Wembley if they fell short. “That’s why I trust us absolutely,” added a manager who will spend the rest of the season under the spectre of Guardiola regardless of what he achieves.

Pellegrini was adamant Everton’s opening goal should have been disallowed for offside and that Navas should have had a penalty for a clip from Kevin Mirallas, whose careless substitute’s display contrasted starkly with the composure and confidence shown by his team-mates. Only the penalty claim had substance. City were again largely subdued away from home and there could be little complaint at the outcome. Everton ended with 10 men after Seamus Coleman limped off with all three substitutes deployed but there was no late flourish from a visiting team who, with Fernando replacing Kevin De Bruyne after the Irish defender’s departure, appeared content to settle for 1-2.

As against Tottenham Hotspur on Sunday, Martínez’s men sat deep initially to plug the gaps that have led to 20 goals being conceded at Goodison in the Premier League – no team has let in more at home this season – and allowed the visitors to control possession in central midfield. City began confidently and with purpose but the pattern changed once the restored Muhamed Besic, who was impressive again, began to stamp his authority on the midfield battle, flicking the ball over the head of David Silva and rousing the home fans with a fully-committed, clean tackle on Yaya Touré for good measure.

Gareth Barry again provided the brains in the operation. Both managers persisted with their cup keepers, Joel Robles sparing Tim Howard another run-in with his critics on the Gwladys Street and Willy Caballero replacing Joe Hart, but neither had a save to make until Everton opened the scoring in first-half stoppage time. The goal had been coming.

Everton served notice of their intent when Gerard Deulofeu slipped Lukaku into the visitors’ area only for the striker’s first touch to enable Nicolás Otamendi to intervene. The home side then had two goals disallowed for offside in the space of five minutes, rightly so on each occasion. Barry and Funes Mori were both beyond the last defender when Leighton Baines floated a free-kick to the far post where the former City midfielder headed back for John Stones to convert from close range. Lukaku also beat Caballero but was two yards behind the visiting back-line when he received a pass from Deulofeu.

It was a case of third time lucky for Everton when Tom Cleverley delivered an inswinging corner from the right on the stroke of half-time. Barry was again first to the cross, glancing on to Ross Barkley who, despite injuring his foot early in the game, unleashed a powerful drive that Caballero parried into the path of Funes Mori. Lukaku was offside when Barkley struck but the Argentina defender was not and gleefully swept home his first goal at Goodison.

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City had barely troubled the Everton goal before the interval. Otamendi headed wide from a De Bruyne corner while a combination of Stones, Robles and Funes Mori prevented Sergio Agüero capitalising on slips from Barkley and Baines. Otherwise, their bright start faded and prompted Pellegrini to make two substitutions before the hour mark, Martín Demichelis replacing the hamstrung Mangala at half-time and Jesus Navas injecting his pace at the expense of Fabian Delph. The latter change was to have the intended effect.

Agüero sliced wide, Fernandinho headed straight at Robles and De Bruyne forced a smart save from the Spanish keeper as Everton were pressed back. The counterattack suited the hosts, with Barkley breaking several times only to lack the killer final touch, but they were undone by one from their own corner as City levelled late on. Touré’s clearance found Agüero who spun superbly away from Coleman and threaded a pass behind an exposed home defence for Navas to beat Robles.

The City celebrations were still in full swing when Everton retook the lead. Baines, Barkley and Barry combined on the left, the veteran midfielder swept a delightful cross over the head of Demichelis and Lukaku was perfectly placed to head home his 19th goal of the campaign, injuring himself in the process. Everton need him fit desperately. Pellegrini needs, and expects, a reaction from City.


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