Everton faced down Lisbon opposition under the Goodison lights this evening for the second time this season with the visit of Sporting against a much stronger Blues side hoping to banish the memory of a 2-0 Group I defeat to Benfica in October. Johnny Heitinga was cup-tied while Marouane Fellaini, Victor Anichebe and Philippe Senderos were out injured, so Joseph Yobo partnered Sylvain Distin in central defence and Steven Pienaar replaced Diniyar Bilyaletdinov in midfield. And the Goodison faithful a chance to see the oft-linked subject of much transfer speculation, Joao Moutinho.
Cagey stuff for the first 10 mins until Cahill set up Saha and the a second chance for Osman but the keeper Rui Patricio was equal to both. Everton won a promising free-kick but as Cahill went off for bloody attention, Arteta drove it poorly wide. Cahill; then got Saha forward to win Everton's first corner that Baines floated well onto Cahill's head but it bounced wide of the post.
At the other end, Abel and Mendes combined to win a corner. Saha was then tripped by Caricco on the edge of the area but nothing given. Everton were struggling to take command of the game, as Sporting were standing off, waiting patiently to pick up possession. Abel tried a long shot that looked dangerous until it curled away past the far post. Arteta continued to struggle with his set-pieces, a corner not clearing the first defender on the half-hour.
Sporting were not bending over but a good move down the right and a very decent ball from Neville appeared to set up Cahill but he ran out of space and instantly conjured a brilliant backheel for the oncoming Pienaar to smack sweetly into the roof of the net under great defensive pressure for the first goal of the game.
Everton were put under pressure as Sporting responded, a shot from Moutinho needed saving and the follow-up had to be dealt with by Neville. But Everton then resumed their attacks in the run-up to half-time, only to be interrupted when Izmailov smacked a good shot onto the outside of the post. Certainly not all plain sailing for the Blues. A better free-kick from Baines was headed a little too heavily over the bar by Saha.
After the break, a good move saw a threatening cross from Baines that was headed away from Saha for a corner. Cahill leapt high in front of Patricio, the ball passing both of them and hitting Distin on the thigh, then bouncing across the line for the second goal. Much protest from the Sporting keeper, but all in vain.
After launching that great corner for the second goal, Baines's next free-kick was horribly overhit. Moutinho got a card for his late tackle on Donovan as Everton looked to have their strongest period of the game so far. Osman went on a nice run after Cahill had gone off with a knee or shin problem, winning a free-kick before Yakubu joined the fray.
Yakubu got lose and hos shot was only just pushed away, while Sporting did well to create a chance at the other end taht Howard handled well. Jack Rodwell then replaced Mikel Arteta for the last 15 mins. Then Bilyaletdinov replaced Saha with 7 mins left, Everton looking comfortable.
But sdistaer struck in the last few minutes when Liedson nutmeggged Diston and scampered off to ward goal. Distin chased him and hen clipped his heels as he entered the area, Liedson perhaps going down a little too easily. Penalty; red card; Distin off. Veloso scored from the spot 3 mins before time, greatly easing their task in the second leg next week.
The intrigue of European competition, at least where the two-legged knock-out system and the away goals rule are concerned, is how quickly the complexion of things can change. Everton would have been returning to Lisbon next Thursday, the scene of their heaviest defeat in European competition, as solid favourites to progress to the round of 16 with a 2-0 advantage. A poor decision by Jack Rodwell, however, and twin errors by Sylvain Distin just five minutes from time gifted Sporting a route back into this tie when it looked as though David Moyes's side had completed a professional, albeit pedestrian, job at Goodison Park.
The Blues were 2-0 up and comfortable going into the close of this first leg until Distin mis-controlled a heavy pass by Rodwell and was robbed near the centre-cricle by Liedson and though the French defender caught up with his opponent in the penalty area, he compounded the initial error by clumsily bringing the Brazilian down, conceding a penalty and earning his marching orders from referee Darko Ceferin. Miguel Veloso stepped up to send Tim Howard the wrong way and hand Sporting a lifeline they barely deserved.
That late drama capped what had until then been a match curiously absent of any real urgency by either side until the last quarter of an hour, at which point visiting manager Carlos Carvalhal began withdrawing experience in favour of pace in an effort to get something from a match his side barely deserved.
Perhaps expecting a challenge akin to that posed by Benfica who put seven goals past Tim Howard without reply over the home and away games in Group I, Everton were fairly cagey in the early going but even when it became apparent that they could have wiped the floor with the Portuguese side if they wanted to, they seemed to lack the killer instinct to put the tie beyond Sporting in the second half.
The quiet start to the game was matched by the low key atmosphere among the home crowd but things started to come to life after 11 minutes when Louis Saha latched into Tim Cahill's flick-on from a long ball from the back but Rui Patricio was off his line smartly to block his first-time shot. Leon Osman was first to the rebound but the 'keeper pushed his placed effort away from danger.
Steven Pienaar then set up a chance for MIkel Arteta to find his range with a free kick but the Spaniard's effort was abysmal before Cahill glanced a header from a corner a yard or so wide as the Blues started to assert themselves in proceedings.
Sporting were moving the ball around nicely when they had it and always looked as though they could create something going forward which they did following an 18th-minute corner by Veloso but Howard got down low to save the eventual shot.
A minute later and a potentially pivotal moment, especially given what unfolded in the same part of the pitch late in the second half. Saha expertly turned his marker to pick up a pass that had dissected the Sporting defence but though he appeared to be blatantly tripped, the referee waved play on and ignored pleas for a free kick and what would have been a red card for the errant defender.
Another poor set-piece from Arteta and a couple of disappointing efforts by Landon Donovan sandwiched a specultive effort by Abel that had Howard diving at full-stretch to see the ball whizz by his right-hand post as neither side really looked like they wanted to grab hold of the game.
But then, some lovely skill by Saha near the touchline saw the Frenchman lay it off to Phil Neville and his well-weighted pass into the area picked out Cahill's run. With the angle tightning and two defenders bearing down on him, the Australian back-heeled it smartly into the path of Pienaar and he shrugged off the challenge of Carrico to sweep the ball into the top corner. 1-0 Everton!
Sporting responded with a bit more pressure and former Tottenham and Portsmouth midfielder Pedro Mendes might have thought he's leveled the scores but Howard pulled off a one-handed save to deny his low shot. Then, after Leighton Baines had embarked on a mazy run and fired wide, Izmailov rattled the Everton post at the other end with a powerful drive from the angle.
The last chance of the half fell to Everton, though, when Pienaar was flattened by Joao Moutinho but Saha's header from the resulting free kick was too heavy and he steered a great chance well over the crossbar.
The second half was just three minutes old when Everton doubled their advantage. Tonel had headed Baines' cross behind for a corner and when the left back put a terrific ball into the six-yard box, Rui Patricio flapped as Cahill rose to challenge and it seemingly bounced off Distin's crotch and into the net.
A soft goal but a real opportunity now to put to the sword a Sporting side who looked as though they were carrying the weight of bad form on their shoulders. Everton didn't really raise their game, though, and had little to show for their efforts over the next half an hour except for a poor free kick attempt by Baines, a Yobo header over the bar, a blocked shot by Donovan and Arteta's best set-piece effort since his comeback so far that drifted a yard over.
Indeed, Donovan was barely involved, Pienaar flitted in and out of proceedings, Arteta had a few moments that evoked his pre-injury glory, and Osman was mercurial, as he so often is, skipping past players with twinkle-toed grace one minute and running down blind alleys the next. And the Blues weren't helped after an hour when Cahill limped off after pulling up lame as he jumped for a ball in the area and had to be replaced by Yakubu.
The Yak did provide an different dimension up front though and he had the chance to wrap things up nicely 13 minutes from the end but his side-foot shot was palmed away by the 'keeper. He then turned provider for Saha when he attempted to replicate the Blues's first goal with a backheel to in the area to Saha but the ball came a bit behind the French striker and his effort lacked power.
Moyes then withdrew Areta and Saha in favour of Rodwell and Bilyaletdinov in an effort to shore things up. Instead, it was the 18 year-old Rodwell who would have a hand in the disastrous final twist to this first leg. His pass back to Distin was ill-advised and hit too hard but the defender should nevertheless have been able to control it and belt it away. Instead, a terrible first touch allowed Liedson to steal the ball away and eventually draw the crucial foul in the box.
Though there would be another nine minutes of action after Veloso's penalty, neither side could fashion a chance worthy of adding to the scoresheet and Everton were left to dwell on the potentially damaging away goal they handed to the Sporting.
Still, despite that psychological boost for Carvalhal's men, the Blues do still have a 2-1 advantage and they will travel to Lisbon next week in the knowledge that should they score an early away goal of their own, Sporting's climb becomes a mountain once more. Certainly, on this evidence, Moyes's men should have little fear of being able to cause the Portuguese side all kinds of problems at the Estádio José Alvalade.
Howard 7, Neville 6, Yobo 7, Distin 6, Arteta 7, Osman 6, Donovan 7, Pienaar 7, Cahill 8*, Saha 7; Subs: Yakubu 7, Rodwell 6, Bilyaletdinov 6
Two and a half months after their last meaningful game in the competition, Everton return to Europa League action this week with a Round of 32 date with Sporting Lisbon. Of course, the last time a team from the Portuguese capital visited Goodison Park it was to cement their dominance over David Moyes's side as Benfica left with a 2-0 victory to add to the 5-0 hammering they'd meted out in the Stadium of Light in the two sides' first meeting in Group I.
Everton are clearly not the same side as the depleted outfit that Benfica steamrollered in October and the Blues are unlikely to be facing the same kind of opposition in Sporting who are 21 points behind their Lisbon neighbours in the Liga Sagres — they also lost 4-1 to the Eagles in the Portguese cup last week — and on a terrible run of form that currently sees them without a win in a month.
That has Sporting coach Carlos Carvalhal contemplating the state of his side's season as he prepares for what promises to be a difficult game against Moyes's revived Blues: “Right now it is time to stop and think, for the club’s leaders to have the courage to take a long hard look at the situation and for us to think about Sporting’s culture and identity and what we want from this season."
Moyes will be without the injured Marouane Fellaini and defensive rock John Heitinga who is cup-tied by virtue of Atletico Madrid's continued involvement in European competition. The Dutchman figured for the Spaniards in the Champions League earlier this season but they benefit from the galling parachute that clubs from that competition enjoy with a second bite at the cherry with the Europa League.
Steven Pienaar returns, however, after missing the home win over Chelsea through suspension and the South African will likely replace Diniyar Bilyaletdinov in the starting lineup but Heitinga's replacement would have been a toss-up between Philippe Senderos and Joseph Yobo but the Swiss defender is apparently doubtful with a back problem. The Nigerian is fit again after aggravating the hamstring injury he picked up in December while on AFCON duty and could play his first game since limping out of the action against Tottenham.
Elsewhere on the field, the Blues will probably be unchanged but Victor Anichebe is ruled out while Tony Hibbert and Phil Jagielka are also still out injured.
With the memory of their penalty heartbreak against Fiorentina two seasons ago in mind, not to mention the ignominy of the Benfica games, in mind, the Blues will be fired up for this one and looking to take a lead in the second leg while making sure to keep a clean sheet.
The 12th man of the Goodison crowd could also be key to this one — a raucous atmosphere like the one that spurred the team on to victory against Chelsea last week could be just the edge Everton need to take control of the tie ahead of the return leg in nine days' time.
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|Arteta (78' Rodwell)|
|Cahill (62' Yakubu)|
|Saha (84' Bilyaletdinov)|
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|SPORTING CP (4-4-2)|
|Fernandez (67' Saleiro)|
|Moutinho :53' (67' Djalo)|
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