Grant silence speaks volumes as Mikel gets marching orders

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The Independent Football

Chelsea's manager Avram Grant, determined to make no comment about the 54th minute sending-off of Jon Obi Mikel which threatened to tip last night's Carling Cup semi-final first leg in Everton's favour, nevertheless managed to clearly convey his opinion. Which was that Mikel should not have been sent off.

The precocious and powerful young Nigerian has now seen a red card four times in the last 16 months, but Grant was certainly not in the mood to acknowledge any lingering flaw in the make-up of the player that Chelsea managed to grab from the eager clutches of Manchester United. The challenge on Phil Neville which prompted referee Peter Walton to despatch Mikel to the sidelines was certainly wild, and the upturned foot which connected glancingly with the defender's shin was clearly not on a parabola to intercept the ball. But it was not that dread aberration of the moment, a two-footed tackle. And Grant, through gritted teeth, swiftly set it in context.

"I will not speak of the red card," Grant spoke. "But if it was a red card, many players who were given yellow cards should have had a red card too. I will not speak about it. I don't say that I have nothing to say about it. I have a lot of things to say about it."

The point, however, was already made. That said, some of the worst challenges elsewhere in a hectic and fractious affair were inflicted by men in the blue of Chelsea, notably Jose Carvalho, sent off against Aston Villa for a two-footed tackle, who attempted to cut James McFadden in half with a scissor tackle that was still insufficient to prevent the Scotsman rampaging through for a shot that skimmed the wrong side of the post rather than putting the visitors 2-1 up.

Steve Sidwell, brought on for the enterprising Joe Cole soon after Mikel's dismissal, also put himself on the role of dishonour with what looked like an attempt at arthroscopic surgery on Lee Carsley's knee.

For a manager who had just seen his 10-man team resist Everton's urgent efforts to profit before claiming victory with an unlikely header by Sean Wright-Phillips in injury time, Grant seemed unduly fractious. His mood did not improve when he was asked about his left back Ashley Cole, replaced as captain midway through Saturday's laboured FA Cup win over QPR, who was passed over in favour of fellow international Wayne Bridge for the third time in four matches. Cole, apparently, is fit. Who knows what all that betokens in the January transfer window.

Meanwhile Grant reiterated the club's continuing interest in signing Nicolas Anelka from Bolton despite having had their first bid of 11m turned down. The Frenchman is doing all he can to oil the wheels, re-stating his desire to move to Stamford Bridge yesterday. "We wanted to get Nicolas for this match," Grant said. "I hope it will be for Saturday's match against Tottenham. If not we will continue to do what we are doing with the players we have."

With Didier Drogba and Salomon Kalou already on duty in preparation for the African Nations Cup, and with Andrei Shevchenko injured again, Chelsea looked clearly lacking up front last night as they put their limited faith in Claudio Pizzaro.

Two words came to mind while watching the Peruvian gangling, and nearly. He missed what would have been a dramatic opportunity to claim the match for Chelsea when Wright-Phillips sent him clean through just four minutes after Mikel had been sent off, producing a weak shot that was easily held by Tim Howard. In the end it fell to the indefatigable Wright-Phillips to deliver the result that most of a raucous full house desired.

Everton's manager, David Moyes, felt afterwards that the tiny winger might have used a little illegal assistance to beat Joleon Lescott, switched from central defence to left back, at the far post for the winning goal. "We just thought there might have been a case that Wright-Phillips was holding Joleon down for the goal," Moyes said.