Everton vs Manchester City match report: Romelu Lukaku gives Toffees precious first-leg advantage

Everton 2 Manchester City 1

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The Independent Football

Romelu Lukaku secured a precious Capital One Cup semi-final advantage for Everton on a night when neither Manchester City nor the match officials could successfully keep an eye on the Belgian forward.

Lukaku’s 78th-minute header restored Everton’s one-goal advantage two minutes after Jesus Navas had cancelled out Ramiro Funes Mori’s first-half opener, but it was Lukaku’s involvement in the Argentine defender’s deadlock-breaker which prompted fury among the City contingent.

Standing at least three yards offside and blocking the view of goalkeeper Willy Caballero, Lukaku was not flagged by the assistant referee, ensuring that Funes Mori’s goal stood.

That error was bad enough for City, with the failure of referee Robert Madley to award a penalty following Kevin Mirallas’s trip on Navas another low blow for Pellegrini’s team.

But the heaviest blow was landed by Lukaku with his late winner, which gives Everton hope of completing their part of a potential all-Merseyside Capital One Cup final in the return clash at the Etihad later this month.

Everton also went into this game having failed to win in front of their supporters since a 4-0 victory against Aston Villa in mid-November. Rather than approach their first League Cup semi-final in eight years in high spirits, the home fans were quiet and tense.

That creeping anxiety has been a worrying theme in recent weeks, so much so that club captain Phil Jagielka used his programme notes to urge Evertonians to banish negative thoughts and restore the fear factor to Goodison.

But aside from the raucous reception which greeted the two teams’ emergence to the Z Cars theme, Goodison remained on edge and the atmosphere was not helped by the cagey football.

Everton, without an appearance in the final of this competition since losing to Liverpool in a replay at Maine Road in 1984, have never won the League Cup in its many guises, but with City manager Manuel Pellegrini boldly resting goalkeeper Joe Hart in favour of his erratic understudy Caballero, their path to next month’s final was cleared of at least one formidable obstacle. But manager Roberto Martinez’s team were unable to test Caballero with an early bombardment as both sides probed without penetration, and the only moment of note was an injury scare for Ross Barkley, with the Everton midfielder receiving lengthy treatment following a kick on the Achilles by Fernandinho.

Barkley was able to return to the action, not that there was much of it. Goalscoring chances were non-existent. City, with Yaya Touré playing just behind striker Sergio Aguero, failed to force Everton goalkeeper Joel Robles into a save in the opening half hour, with Nicolas Otamendi heading a Kevin De Bruyne corner wide at the near post and Aguero skewing a 20-yard shot wildly off target.

Yaya Toure endured a tough night

John Stones saw a goal ruled out on 37 minutes due to three team-mates straying offside, while Lukaku, who also had a goal disallowed for offside, saw his best effort blocked by a well-timed Otamendi tackle. 

It was not until Robles kept out an angled shot from Aguero on 43 minutes, before Funes Mori blocked the City forward’s follow-up shot, that either team came close to breaking the deadlock.

But having kept one out in front of the Gwladys Street goal being defended by Everton, the Argentine defender then delivered the crucial breakthrough for the home side by scoring the opening goal in the second minute of stoppage time.

Caballero had done well to keep out Barkley’s powerful shot, but he was unable to keep hold of the ball, which dropped loose on the edge of the six-yard box.

City’s defenders were static, perhaps believing that Lukaku was offside, but Funes Mori pounced on the ball and sent it beyond Caballero to break the deadlock.

City had every reason to feel a sense of injustice about the goal, with Lukaku quite clearly offside and blocking the vision of Caballero. The Belgian was flagged offside on numerous occasions, but when it mattered most, the linesman’s flag incorrectly stayed down.

Pellegrini’s team at least had 45 minutes to restore parity, but the 2014 winners were pushed back by Everton’s rampant start to the second half and Martinez’s team should have at least doubled their lead before the hour-mark. Barkley was at the heart of the home team’s attacking thrusts and the England midfielder almost teed up Lukaku with a threaded cross to the far post on 50 minutes.

The ball bounced beyond Caballero and seemingly into Lukaku’s path, but the forward was inches away from connecting with it.

The Bosnian midfielder Muhamed Besic then saw a 25-yard shot saved by Caballero after Stones had found him in space before Barkley raced away from Touré and Martin Demichelis, only to run out of pitch just when it looked as though he was set to score one of the individual goals of the season.

Funes Mori.jpg
Funes Mori celebrates his opener

After Gerard Deulofeu’s chip was palmed away by Caballero, City finally rallied and Fernandinho’s downward header on 64 minutes forced Robles into action for the first time in the second half.

But Everton quickly regained the upper hand and Caballero produced a crucial save to deny Barkley 60 seconds later after the midfielder had escaped Otamendi.

City should have been awarded a penalty on 70 minutes, though, when Navas was tripped by Everton substitute Mirallas, only for Madley 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.

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.