Everton 2 Manchester City 1: Everton enhanced the prospects of a Merseyside derby in the final of the Capital One Cup with a thrilling victory over Manchester City to match what their local rivals did 24 hours earlier.
Liverpool’s 1-0 win over Stoke has made them warm favourites to reach the final on 28 February and Everton are determined not to miss out on a possible re-match of the 1984 final, which went the way of the Reds.
With just a one-goal lead it’s far from cut-and-dried with Manchester City such a formidable force at the Etihad Stadium and having blown away three previous opponents with 13 goals in three ties to reach the last four.
But Everton should head into the return leg in three weeks’ time lifted by an outstanding performance at a vibrant Goodison Park, capped by Romelu Lukaku’s late headed winner — the striker’s 19th goal of a phenomenal season.
Everton manager Roberto Martinez said: “The stats are there to back any assessment about Romelu. He’s always been, in our eyes, the perfect striker for our team, that’s why we invested so heavily in a young man.
“He wants to be the best in the world and it’s a joy to see him enjoying his football and scoring goals.”
Everton captain Gareth Barry said: “We needed to use our crowd as our advantage and we did that. We have been scoring a lot of goals and we go there knowing we probably need to score a goal. We have to have a positive attitude going there.”
Everton’s trophy drought stretches back to 1995 and a fifth FA Cup success, with the nearest they have got to winning the League Cup for the first time since 1984 their run to the semi-finals in 2008.
However, they are now well placed to go one better.
City last lifted the League Cup in 2014, a first trophy for Manuel Pellegrini who ended that season with a Premier League title to go with it and who is again the hunt for four trophies before his expected departure at the end of the season to make way for Pep Guardiola.
In this competition, City will have to do it the hard way, though, after being second best to an Everton side driven on from midfield by Muhamed Besic and which took control of the tie just before half time.
Sergio Aguero had gone close for City with efforts saved by Joel Robles and blocked by Funes Mori but after twice having efforts disallowed for off-side, Everton did make an effort count by taking the lead a minute into first-half stoppage time.
Again Lukaku strayed into an off-side position but the ball dropped instead for Ramiro Funes Mori after Willy Caballero had saved Ross Barkley’s fierce shot following a corner and the defender hooked in his second goal for the club.
“The team did a great job. When we had to defend, we defend, when we had to go forward we were great offensively. 2-1 is good for us, we hope to keep it up,” said Funes Mori.
Everton didn’t let the tempo drop as they looked to push home their advantage after the break with Gerard Deulofeu testing Willy Caballero with an attempted chip.
The City keeper, deputising for rested England number-one Joe Hart, then made a better save to deny Barkley after the midfielder had brushed aside Otamendi and raced into the box to create a shooting chance.
But the visitors began to threaten themselves as they looked to level a pulsating tie.
Aguero sliced an effort wide after being set up by David Silva and Robles was then grateful to grab a header from Fernandinho following a Navas cross.
The Everton keeper was tested again as Kevin de Bruyne played a one-two with Aguero before curling an effort towards the bottom corner.
And City’s pressure paid off with 14 minutes to go when they made it 1-1 with a superb goal on the break.
Fernandinho’s long ball released Aguero and after running at the Everton defence, he slipped the ball into the path of Navas who side-footed home his first goal since September, 2014.
City would have been delighted to have been going back to the Etihad Stadium on level terms but parity lasted just two minutes as Gareth Barry’s cross was powerfully headed home by Lukaku to put Everton within touching distance of Wembley and a potentially famous derby.
Lukaku picked up a minor injury in the process and Everton finished with 10 men as they had already made all three substitutes when Seamus Coleman suffered a calf strain that Martinez reckons will keep the Ireland international out for three to four weeks.
Pellegrini felt Everton’s opener should have been disallowed for offside but remains confident City can turn things around in the second leg.
“The first half, they scored a goal that is quite clearly offside, and in the second half we should have had a penalty,” he said. “Losing 2-1 playing away is just 1-0 at home — we can do it.”
EVERTON: Robles 8; Coleman 8, Stones 8, Funes Mori 8, Baines 8; Besic 8, Barry 7; Deulofeu 7 (Mirallas 68), Barkley 8, Cleverley 6 (Osman ht, 7); Lukaku 8 (Kone 82).
MANCHESTER CITY: Caballero 7; Sagna 6, Otamendi 6, Mangala 6 (Demichelis ht), Clichy 6; Fernandinho 6, Delph 6 (Navas 54. 7); De Bruyne 6 (Fernando 90), Toure 5, Silva 6; Aguero 7.
Referee: Robert Madley 8
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