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Venue: Etihad Stadium, Manchester
League Cup
 Wednesday 27 January 2016; 7:45pm
Man City
3 1
Fernandinho 24', De Bruyne 70'
Aguero 76'
Aggregate: 4-3
Half Time: 1-1
Barkley 18'
Attendance: 50,048
SF 2nd leg
Referee: Martin Atkinson

Match Report

If hope and passion alone were enough to win silverware, Evertonians wouldn't find themselves drowning their sorrows tonight contemplating the very real possibility that their club's trophy drought will extend to a 22nd year after this season, with little hope on the horizon that it will end any time soon.

A painful exit from the Capital One Cup has left the FA Cup as the sole avenue by which Roberto Martinez can salvage another train-wreck of a season and realise the 'special achievement to which he unconvincingly clung in his post-match interview. –

By the official count, 7,300 Blues travelled to Eastlands this evening in the vain belief that Everton's 2-1 lead from the first leg of this semi-final might be enough to carry them through to Wembley next month. In reality, while the hosts struggled to persuade enough of their own supporters to attend, many more Evertonians made the trek, to populate supposedly neutral zones – by some accounts, a few were turfed out during that match – and even brave the home sections at the Etihad Stadium and hopefully witness a performance worthy of shutting down Manuel Pellegrini's attacking machine for the second time this month.

For much of the first half of what was an absorbing match for those neutrals for whom Roberto Martinez's side have been doing so much to entertain this season, it looked as though the travelling fans might get it. Ross Barkley's wonderful solo effort after 17 minutes had extended Everton's aggregate lead to two goals and cancelled out Jesus Navas's away goal from the first leg. And even though City would benefit from a huge slice of fortune six minutes later when Fernandinho's shot deflected off Leighton Baines and flew past the stranded Joel Robles, the Blues were still in the driving seat at 1-1 on the night.

Unfortunately, amid controversy, questionable management and a strengthening tide of Manchester City's offence, Everton buckled in the second half and were meekly despatched into the night having seen that 3-1 aggregate lead transformed into a 4-3 defeat. Three more goals conceded in a season drowning in them, a consequence of the Blues simply being far too open and too easy to play through. Martinez made the "heartbreak" over the scandalous oversight of an obvious goal kick that led to the Citizen's second goal the central theme of his comments after the game but two incidents involving Gerard Deulofeu could equally be cited as turning points in the tie.

One-on-one with Willy Caballero five minutes into the second half, the Spaniard had a gilt-edged chance to hand the Blues a potentially decisive second away goal but he shot too close to the goalkeeper and his effort was beaten away. A few minutes later, his manager made the fatal decision to remove him and throw Arouna Kone on in a double substitution that saw the capable but tiring Leon Osman come off in favour of James McCarthy.

In the absence of any real threat from a still-below-par Romelu Lukaku, Deulofeu was the only player causing City any real concern by that point and the winger's departure from the match appeared to kill any attacking momentum that the visitors had left.

The controversy over the second goal, where the fact that Raheem Sterling had carried the ball over the byline was blatantly obvious in real time let alone with the benefit of television replays, is, sadly, a distraction from the larger issue. Not least because none of the six Blue shirts in the middle of the box were anywhere near the goalscorer, Kevin De Bruyne. Far from going "eye to eye" with one of the best teams in the country as Roberto Martinez claimed after the game, Everton were clearly second best for the majority of this contest – they managed just two shots on goal in 90 minutes and the defence was hanging on for dear life at times either side of the City substitute's strike that made it 2-1 on the night with 20 minutes to go.

Sergio Aguero had hammered an impressive shot off Joel Robles's post, the Spanish 'keeper had somehow got in the way of a shot from the rebound by David Silva in the first half with the score at 1-1 and Silva planted a header off the base of the upright 10 minutes into the second period. That not long after Aguero had uncharacteristically mis-kicked wide another golden chance in front of goal.

So, it was almost inevitable that, with Everton penned back and struggling for an out-ball without Deulofeu's pace in attack, the home side should score twice in six minutes to turn the tie on its head. Sterling's cut-back from behind the byline picked out De Bruyne who swept home from a central position and when no one adequately closed the same player down following a clearance from a corner, the Belgian international curled in a pin-point cross for Aguero, in oceans of space behind in front of John Stones, had time to steer a firm header past Robles and into the far corner.

That, despite another 14 minutes on the clock and what should have been eight more minutes of stoppage time, was that. There would be no cavalry charge from a blunt Everton attack that made a mockery of its reputation this season as a fearsome weapon and save for a couple of late set pieces, they offered little resistance to the seeming inevitability of their defeat of their Wembley dream.

(If there is a silver lining, of course, it's that the inevitable psychological collapse against Liverpool at Wembley next month has been averted, but with it goes the opportunity to finally address a mentality of inferiority and a lack of fortitude that appears to pervade the club nowadays.)

Given the massive sums of money spent on their side – they were, after all, able to bring a world-class talent like De Bruyne off the bench – you would expect Manchester City to be as superior as they were overall, particularly in the second half. Still, the contention from Martinez and some of this players that this Everton side can beat anyone on their day rings hollow now, though, despite their efforts in the first leg.

Equally, the manager's lament at misfortune and poor officiating – however valid on yet another occasion – would wash if they weren't a mere part of an established trend of poor results, mistakes and blown leads that stretches back a full 18 months under Martinez. The statistics of just 18 wins from 61 matches over the past two seasons, 110 goals conceded in the same period, under-achievement from a talented and much-lauded squad, and a now obvious regression in Premier League performance tell their own story.

Put bluntly, Everton under Martinez are simply not as good as either he or they think they are and the gathering signs are that they never will be under his stewardship. The potential is there but the same refrain from the manager regarding a young side that is "getting close to being a winning team" is getting old. He has had ample time to demonstrate that he has the answers to a worsening defensive record and a succession of unacceptable results but the grim realisation now is that he has taken our club as far as he can. Whether there is any appetite – or capacity, for that matter – at boardroom level to make the decision to replace him in the face of that deteriorating record, however, remains to be seen.

Lyndon Lloyd

Match Preview

Everton are back in Eastlands this evening for the second time in the space of a fortnight and the third meeting with Manchester City this month, one that carries the promise of a place at Wembley in next month's Capital One Cup final if they can get the right result.

Not just a chance to temporarily set aside his woes in the Premier League, this meeting with Manuel Pellegrini's men is almost certainly the biggest game of Roberto Martinez's tenure. More than halfway through his third season in charge, the wheels have come off Everton's tilt at finally finishing in the top four again and serious doubts about the Catalan's abiilty to take the club forward are now being raised.

It's a campaign that was rich with promise when the side he has assembled started to show signs of gelling into one of the most exciting and potent teams in England earlier this season. But a catalogue of draws, missed opportunities, late lapses, and dismal defeats like that which brought the campaign to its nadir on Sunday against Swansea have effectively ended the Champions League dream.

And yet, sitting as the Blues are just two wins from ending a 21-year trophy drought, Martinez has a shot at partial redemption with the League Cup; a potential catalyst to a campaign that, in one of the most open and unpredictable Premier League seasons thus far, can still be rescued to a degree if the team can find what appears to be an impossibly delicate balance between free-flowing attack and defensive solidity.

Everton demonstated the latter in spades at the Etihad Stadium two weeks ago when they dug in and held on for a creditable goalless draw against the most prolific attack in the top flight. Tim Howard had arguably his best game of the season, the returning Phil Jagielka was magnificent alongside Ramiro Funes Mori and while the single point they earned wasn't much use in terms of the League campaign, it served as a morale-booster in the context of this second leg of the semi-final which they come into leading 2-1.

Unfortunately, Sunday's debacle represented arguably the worst preparation possible for tonight's contest. Not only did the Blues lose to relegation-threatened Swansea with a disappointing display that underscored their defensive disorganisation and over-reliance on Romelu Lukaku, but they lost Muhamed Besic one of the outstanding figures from the first leg three weeks ago and Kevin Mirallas finally showing hints of his best form in the oh-so-nearly game at Chelsea on the 16th to injury inside half an hour.

Both players have been ruled out of this evening's match but the potential return to action of James McCarthy could soften the blow of the Bosnian's absence. The Irishman doesn't quite have the fiery, Talismanic intensity of Besic but he is more than capable of playing the disruptor role in defensive midfield that will be so important against the likes of David Silva, Raheem Sterling, Yaya Toure and Sergio Aguero. He hasn't completed a game since November, however, so Martinez would be wise to exercise caution over throwing him into such an intense fixture without McCarthy being 100% ready.

Assuming he does start, he would likely come into a midfield three rounded out by Gareth Barry and Tom Cleverley, sitting in front of a back four of Seamus Coleman, Phil Jagielka, John Stones and Leighton Baines with Joel Robles behind them. Given the scrutiny under which Stones has been in recent weeks not least because of the late tackle on Sterling that should have earned City a last-minute penalty in the League match there have been calls to drop him back to the bench and it would certainly be harsh to demote Funes Mori after his recent form. While he famously kept Stones out of the side for a similar second leg tie against Dynamo Kiev last March with catastrophic consequences, Martinez will probably keep faith with him this time.

On the flanks, it would normnally be a straight choice between Aaron Lennon and Gerard Deulofeu at wide right but Steven Pienaar's return to fitness has added the option of deplying him on the other flank, although it would be at the noticeable expense of pace on the counter-attack and it's hard to see the manager electing to go into this one without such an important offensive option at his disposal. Knowing that an early goal for his side would heap pressure on City with the requirement to score twice to force extra time, Martinez will surely centre his first-half strategy around hitting the hosts on the break.

Everton under Martinez have used the escapism of a cup campaign to their advantage before, most memorably in the Europa League last year where they went to the likes of Wolfsburg and came away with a handsome victory against most of the odds. They are capable of repeating that feat this evening if they can remain disciplined and take the few chances that are likely to fall their way.

If they can do it, they would slay a few demons the club has gone into three prior second legs leading 2-1 and lost all of them along the way and also set up the opportunity to kill off some of the biggest in an all-Merseyside final against Liverpool where they can gain revenge for 2012 and finally rid themselves of the pschological hold that the reds have had over Everton for far too long.

First things first, though get the job done against City.

Kick off: 7.45pm
Referee: Martin Atkinson
Predicted line-up: Robles, Coleman, Stones, Jagielka, Baines, Barry, McCarthy, Cleverley, Barkley, Deulofeu, Lukaku

Lyndon Lloyd

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  Otamdendi booked
  Delph (Navas 45')
  Toure (De Bruyne 66')
  Silva (Fernando 80')
  Subs not used

  Stones (Coleman 77')
  Funes Mori
  Baines booked
  Cleverley booked
  Osman (McCarthy 60')
  Deulofeu (Kone 60')
  Subs not used
  Besic (injured)
  Browning (injured)
  Mirallas (injured)
  Garbutt (loan)
  Junior (loan)
  Ledson (loan)

Other Scores
Liverpool p (1) 0-1 (0) Stoke

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