For those who wanted FA Cup ties that matter, this was it. It was gladiatorial and for Everton and Chelsea everything depended on it. By the finish, Romelu Lukaku had killed off Chelsea’s season and Diego Costa and Gareth Barry had been dismissed. For the managers it was a result that defined their season. Guus Hiddink’s second spell as Roman Abramovich’s salvage operator will not, like the first, end with him lifting the FA Cup.
For Lukaku, goals have not been a problem; the ones that took Everton through to the semi-finals of the FA Cup were his 24th and 25th of the season. It has been scoring goals that matter. These mattered desperately. The first was a superb mixture of strength and precision. He held off Cesar Azpilicueta, cut through John Obi Mikel and Gary Cahill and then drove his shot past Thibaut Courtois. The question would be how Everton would react. Only Dick Dastardly, the villain of Wacky Races, has lost more leads than Roberto Martinez.
Now, Everton finished things. Put through by Ross Barkley, Lukaku looked up with the eyes of an executioner and fired the ball through his countryman’s legs. In the Main Stand by the directors box, middle-aged men leapt into each other’s arms. Their season would go on.
For Costa and Barry the night would very soon be coming to a halt. They had been niggling at each other all evening and now the Spaniard retaliated, almost appearing to bite Barry as he did so. This was his second yellow and Barry’s – for a foul on Cesc Fabregas – was not long in coming. One was howled off, the other left to an ovation.
Martinez had made his reputation in an FA Cup quarter-final at Goodison Park. It was Wigan’s emphatic 3-0 win here which persuaded the Everton chairman, Bill Kenwright, he would not have to look very far for David Moyes’ replacement. That tie had been settled by half time. When the interval came around for this match, the only pattern in the game was provided by the bruises dished out by some fearsome tackling.
Kenwright watched alongside Farhad Moshiri, who, having paid for 49 per cent of the club was seeing for the first time what his money had bought. There was precious little skill on offer but the atmosphere came as standard. For both of the great under-achievers in this year’s Premier League, it was approaching last orders in the Last Chance Saloon. At Goodison and Stamford Bridge, it suddenly seemed very late in the season and everybody knew it. Chelsea thought the quarter-final important enough to pay for a blue-and-white scarf on every one of the 6,000 seats in the Bullens Road Stand occupied by the club’s supporters.
The play was frenetic. Costa, who had not impressed in the Champions League defeat by Paris St-Germain with his fitness, began this match by driving into Barry whom he appeared to catch in the face. Seamus Coleman exacted some retribution on Pedro and was then clattered by Chelsea’s young Brazilian, Kenedy, employed as a makeshift left-back.There was precisely one real opportunity in an unforgiving first half and it came when Phil Jagielka brought down Fabregas 25 yards out. Willian, who was probably the one footballer to show some fight as Jose Mourinho’s regime collapsed around him, sent the free-kick over the wall to be tipped into the Gwladys Street End by Joel Robles.
That was just before the interval and, as if to compensate in what had been a tit-for-tat, blow-for-blow encounter, Tom Cleverley promptly forced Courtois into his first save of the evening in the two minutes of first-half stoppage time. The teams walked off to boos for Costa and a rendition of Mr Blue Sky.
It wasn’t a blue-sky kind of tie. It was nasty, brutal and very dark. For most of the quarter-final, Costa had been prepared to be a theatrical villain for Goodison’s benefit but now, slipped in by Fabregas early in the second half, he showed his delicacy of touch by holding off Ramiro Funes Mori while taking the ball past Robles and sliding it across the very face of the Everton goal. The ball bobbled along what for Hiddink would have been just the wrong side of the thin white line.
Everton: (4-3-3) Robles; Coleman, Jagielka, Funes Mori, Baines; Cleverley, McCarthy, Barry; Lennon (Stones, 88), Lukaku (Niasse,90), Barkley (Besic, 90).
Chelsea: (4-2-3-1) Courtois; Azpilicueta, Ivanovic, Cahill, Kenedy (Terry, 85); Mikel, Matic (Rémy, 82); Willian (Oscar, 73), Fabregas, Pedro; Costa. .
Referee: Michael Oliver
Man of the match: Lukaku (Everton)
Match rating: 7/10
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