Chelsea took a one goal advantage into the second leg of the Carling Cup semi final against Everton, a last minute own goal from Joleon Lescott currently separating the two sides, despite the sending off of Africa-bound Jon Obi Mikel.Carlo Cudicini, Florent Malouda and Ricardo Carvalho were all available for selection by Avram Grant; however he chose to stick with Hilario in goal. Bridge and Belletti were chosen as the fullbacks, with Wright-Phillips in a three man midfield alongside Mikel and Ballack; Malouda was wide left in the 4-3-3 as Joe Cole played to the right of our only fit striker, Claudio Pizarro. As a result, Ben Sahar was called up to the bench.
Everton chose to play Phil Jagielka at centre back, forcing Lescott out of position to the left. Tim Cahill would be a threat from midfield, as well as their pacy strike force of Yakubu and Andrew Johnson.
Lee Carsley flew into a few early challenges, which set the tone for this spicy encounter. The first shot of note came after a neat move involving Ballack and Pizarro saw the ball drop towards our right back, Juliano Belletti, who blazed over the cross bar.
The next shot of note, turned into a goal of sublime quality. The scorer was Shaun Wright-Phillips, so much more impressive in midfield than out wide, in front of new England manager Fabio Capello. Malouda and the also impressive Bridge exchanged passes from a throw in, before the Frenchman picked out Wright-Phillips lurking just inside the penalty area to the left. The diminutive attacker took a controlling touch before curling a gorgeous shot past the hapless Tim Howard, to give Chelsea the early advantage.
Two minutes later, a Chelsea counter almost caught out Everton. Wright-Phillips was involved again as he burst through the middle, before playing Joe Cole towards goal. A few lucky breaks later and the England man was one on one with Howard, but the American made a fine stop, only for referee Walton to call play back for a foul on Cole just outside the area, by Tony Hibbert.
Ballack, Alex and Malouda all stood over the resulting free kick, but it was Chelsea’s stand in skipper that took a shot, which whistled inches wide of the goal with Howard beaten.
Hilario’s only real test of the first half was a comfortable catch from Lescott’s cross as McFadden linked up with him down the left hand side, as Chelsea took the lead into the break.
Wright-Phillips, easily the best player on the pitch, saw a shot beaten away by Howard early in the half. Ten minutes into the second period, the referee inexplicably sent Mikel off for a “one footed lunge” on Everton’s captain Phil Neville. His antics after the challenge will not have endeared him to the fans at Stamford Bridge; however Mikel’s suspension will be served whilst he is away for the ACN, a spot of poetic justice, perhaps.
Pizarro shot straight at Howard after being played in by the brilliant Wright-Phillips, before Steve Sidwell replaced the ineffective Joe Cole. Everton equalised within a few minutes, as Hilario failed to collect a high free kick, the knockdown smashed in by Yakubu. Suddenly, Everton were back in the tie.
McFadden nearly gave the visitors the lead, when his shot from the most acute of angles hit the base of the far post, after he jinked around Ricardo Carvalho. Ferreira was the next sub on, replacing Pizarro, Wright-Phillips moved up front to play as the lone striker.
It was here that he made the most crucial of impacts on the game. In stoppage time, Bridge’s cross was deflected into the path of Ballack, who kept the ball alive by lobbing it further into the penalty area. Lescott, unaware of Wright-Phillips’ presence, was looking to shepherd the ball back to his keeper Howard, only for the Chelsea number 24 to leap, Dixon/Flo/Drogba-esque at the back post to force an own goal out of the Everton defender. A priceless contribution from Wright-Phillips, especially with Capello’s keen eye watching.
There was time for more drama though, as with a very, very late attack, Lescott in space was found by McFadden, but Hilario was out to make a brave and heroic late stop at the feet of the Englishman.
Full time blew on a pulsating cup tie, one where Chelsea’s spirit and courage with ten men, will undoubtedly please Avram Grant. Our quite incredible run continues under the Israeli, as the Blues look to defend our honour as domestic cup kings, first of all, by holding our advantage in the second leg and securing our passage to another Carling Cup Final.
Chelsea (4-3-3): Hilario; Belletti, Alex, Carvalho, Bridge; Wright-Phillips, Mikel, Ballack (c); Malouda (Ben-Haim 90+2), Pizarro (Ferreira 82), J Cole (Sidwell 60).
Everton (4-4-1-1): Howard; Hibbert, Yobo, Jagielka, Lescott; Neville (c), Cahill, Carsley, McFadden; Johnson; Yakubu (Anichebe 89).
Referee Peter Walton.