Everton 2 - 1 Manchester City
Arriving at the busy pub, Ste and I simply didn't know what to think about how the game was going to go, our only rather negative prediction being that we couldn't keep Manchester CIty out for the whole game. Well, that we didn't, but we were treated to a performance so encouraging that you really have to wonder how we are not riding much, much higher in the Premier League.
Still, the night was about the Capital One cup semi-final first leg fixture against Manchester City, a really tough task though we all felt more optimistic when we saw the team news in the pub, with Everton starting with the team that finished against Tottenham Hotspurs, on the outfield at least, whilst Joel Robles replaced Tim Howard in goal. With everybody happy with the team, on we went to the ground, the atmosphere strangely subdued, only noisy Manchester City fans in voice.
I wasn't exactly inspired with confidence when I watched Joel Robles head out onto the pitch with his teammates and almost fall over one of the junior mascots whilst he applauded the crowd. The teams readied up, Robert Madley, the best referee I've seen for some time, got the game under way as Everton attacked towards the Park End in the first half. Well I say attacked, the first 10 minutes were dominated by Manchester CIty as Everton struggled to live with the visitors, though we did generally have them at arms length I would suggest, though I also got the impression Manchester CIty had it in them to raise it a gear or two.
Still, Everton patiently got into the game and managed to get on the front foot, and, by half time, Manchester City had only really created two meaningful opportunities. One when Sergio Aguero just about evaded John Stones and got his shot away, with Robles slapping it out. The rebound was only half -cleared but thankfully came to nothing. The other opportunity came when Nicolas Otamendi headed just wide from a corner kick.
At the other end, Everton built pressure and had the ball in the Manchester City net on three separate occasions in the first half, though two were chalked off for offside, the first when John Stones wellied home a Gareth Barry knock-down, and the second when Romelu Lukaku finished though even from the Gwladys Street, this looked offside. It was actually a bit of a surprise that the third goal wasn't disallowed for offside also as there was nobody within yards of unlikely hero Funes Mores when he put the ball in the net but the goal stood and Everton went into the break a goal to the good.
Leon Osman replaced the presumably injured Tom Cleverley at the break with Manchester City also making a change with Martin Demichelis replacing Eliaquim Mangala. With us a goal to the good I felt the Leon Osman substitution to be a sensible one and so it proved with a very astute display from our veteran midfielder. It was credit to Everton that we began the second half on the front foot and tried to double our money early in the second half with the crowd in good voice.
Despite our best efforts, the goal wouldn't quite come and it was always the danger that Manchester City might catch us on the counter-attack, and so it proved when Sergio Aguero surged forward and played a perfect pass in to Jesus Navas who finished well. Navas - isn't he widely mocked in some football quarters for his lack of contribution at Manchester City with just four goals in 83 matches? Typical then that he scores against us. Prior to that Robles had saved well from De Bruyne...I thought that was in the back of the net.
Luckily enough we were back in front before long when a fantastic delivery from Gareth Barry was met by the by-this-point injured Romelu Lukaku who headed in unmarked. You somehow knew he would have something to say in this game. The atmosphere electric. This was Lukaku's last contribution in the game as he limped off for Everton to make their third substitute of the evening. Roberto Martinez is often maligned for not using all his substitutions, so wasn't it just his luck that one of the few times he does, that we lose Seamus Coleman to injury and have to see the game out with 10 men. Thankfully we were brilliantly composed during this period and saw the game out hassle free. The applause that greeted the team at full time was fantastic and richly deserved.
We head to the Etihad knowing what we have to do, and what a chance to get to Wembley. What a chance to win a trophy. Bring it home Everton. It's been far too long.
Robles: Saved what he had to though with precious little balls played into the penalty area he didn't have the opportunity to command his penalty area as many are crying out for Tim Howard to do. Hard to fault him based on saves made though and he had no chance with the Manchester CIty goal. 7
Baines: A very good display of endeavour, defensive solidarity and attacking flair. Great to see him back at something like his best. 8
Funes Mori: A very good defensive display and a crucial goal. Well played. 8
Stones: Had a shaky start to the game with some aimless passes but he settled eventually and had a good, solid game. 7
Coleman: His season has been frustratingly stop-start. It seems that just when he's getting back to his best he gets another injury. Unfortunately he again had to limp off in this one. He can at least get a rest at the weekend, and fingers crossed it's nothing too serious and he can be back quickly. Had a good game otherwise. 7
Barry: My man of the match. An exemplary display from our captain and he will have enjoyed getting one over on his former club, particularly Manuel Pellegrini whom deemed him surplus to requirements at Manchester City. 9
Besic: Also brilliant, especially in the first half. His combination of tenacity and skill is a joy to behold and we have some player on our hands there. 9
Cleverley: Had a steady first half before substituted, presumably injured. 6
Deulofeu: Worked hard first half though was evidently exhausted come 68 minutes when he was substituted for Kevin Mirallas. 6
Barkley: Very good. Has progressed extremely well this season. Playing regularly in a settled position has probably helped. Is maturing well. 7
Lukaku: Not his busiest of games as he may have been carrying a knock but he still got on the scoresheet. He can probably have the weekend off now and rest up. What a season he is having. 7
Osman (for Cleverley): Great to see him play and he did well on the left hand side. Maybe Leon Osman has something left to give this season yet...maybe even a well-deserved trophy to cap off his years of service at Everton. 7
Mirallas (For Deulofeu): Got involved. Should get more minutes on Saturday. 7
Kone (for Lukaku): Was difficult for him to make an impact as soon after coming on we were down to 10 men. Should get more game time on Saturday. 6