Chelsea 1-1 Everton (3-4 on pens): Cole and Anelka put Blues in spot of bother in shoot-out exit
Chelsea saw their best chance of attaining silverware in 2011 crumble away as they were knocked out of the FA Cup, losing 4-3 on penalties to a resilient Everton side.
The London Blues looked to be heading into the 5th round of the domestic cup competition when Frank Lampard fired the home team in to the lead in extra time. Leighton Baines dashed any hopes they had of a home tie with Reading in the next round, curling in a superbly executed free-kick to take the game to penalties. Nicolas Anelka and Ashley Cole missed their spot kicks, allowing Everton captain Phil Neville to step up with the responsibility of sending his team in to the next round. The ex-Manchester United man kept cool under the immense pressure and powerfully converted to dump the holders out of the competition.
Whilst penalties are by no means the fairest way to separate two sides, Chelsea will no doubt come away feeling like they have just passed up on their best shot at a trophy for this season. They were hoping to become the first team in 125 years to lift the famous trophy for the third time on the trot. Instead of walking out on the famous Wembley turf again, Chelsea’s players must be content with watching this year’s showpiece from their living rooms.
The defeat is just another disappointment in a long list of failures for the club this season, and whilst Everton provided the game’s twist in the tale at the very death, Chelsea provided the skeptics with further proof that they are doomed to a season to forget.
Everton actually dominated possession early on in this long drawn out affair, but with a distinct lack of fire-power they struggled to transform their attacking intentions into goal-scoring opportunities. Both Baines and Seamus Coleman were impressing on the flanks and it took their Chelsea counterparts a while to find an answer to their purposeful attacks.
As has so often been the story for Chelsea at the Bridge this season, it took time for them to carve out a real opening against a well-organised Everton back-four. Lampard floated in a cross from the left hand side and Phil Jagielka appeared to get the final touch, flicking the ball with his head on to his own post. The rebound seemed to fall very kindly to John Terry who had space in front of goal but could not keep his effort from flying high over the bar.
Lampard, who looked to be Chelsea’s most likely goal threat up to that point, tested Tim Howard with a fiercely struck shot. The American blocked the shots path to goal and also did well to save at the legs of Florent Malouda who was keenly following up. Chelsea now had Everton pegged back in their half, and but for a little bit of luck here or there might have found the breakthrough.
And the home fans were adamant that it was at hand when Ramires went over after a sliding Howard looked to have caught the Brazilian in the box. The Bridge expected to see referee Phil Dowd point to the spot, but all except the travelling fans were horrified to see him wave a yellow card at Ramires for simulation. Now was not the time for penalty drama.
The ground had seemed to have calmed down once play had resumed in the second half and Chelsea looked to continue their dominance; Didier Drogba flexing his might for the first time with two typically adventurous free-kicks. With record signing Fernando Torres cup-tied , this was his chance to show that he was the more invaluable player and came close to grabbing the headlines through his set-pieces.
Everton though, having survived the various Chelsea onslaughts started to carve chances of their own. Jermaine Beckford who was largely ineffective for most of the game hit well wide form a promising position, and if Leon Osman could have found more power either side of Petr Cech then his side could have taken a shock lead.
However with the game in it’s dying minutes that’s exactly what the Toffee’s had appeared to do. Mikel Arteta fooled most by taking his free-kick short to Baines, who in turn fooled everyone by feigning a cross and cutting in on his lesser right foot. Cech did well to parry the subsequent shot from Baines, but parry was all he could do and Marouane Fellaini tapped home to send the away fans wild.
The celebrations however were cut short before the party could begin, as the linesman rightly ruled the goal out for offside. It meant both sets of fans would have to endure at least another half an hour of nail-biting action. After Everton’s late dash towards goal in normal time, the tie looked as though it could sway either way.
Extra-time proved to be a lacklustre sparing match as both sets of tired legs tried to conserve as much energy as possible. Carlo Ancelotti looked to have masterminded his side’s passage in to the next round by bringing on Anelka for Malouda. The Frenchman immediately provided the cross for the goal, as a neat chest down teed up Lampard to half-volley in to the net.
It was now just a matter of seeing the game out, but Everton had other ideas. If you didn’t want to admit anything about Everton’s performance, you could at least admit that they showed incredible strength of character to claw themselves back into the game. Looking hurt and beaten with less than a minute left to play, Baines demonstrated true class as well as great nerve to equalise with a stunning, bending free-kick.
The effect this comeback had on Chelsea’s players did not seem too apparent at first as Lampard very coolly converted the first spot kick. And with Baines surprisingly missing the consequent penalty it looked as though Chelsea would find a way through after all. But Everton’s remaining kickers were spot on and with Anelka failing to score with a timid penalty, Ashley Cole stepped up to give his side the lead.
But the England full back’s penalty was lacking in accuracy as it sailed high and wide into the jubilant Evertonians behind. With just one decisive penalty left to take, Everton captain Phil Neville stepped up and converted an almost perfect penalty that found the top corner whilst sending a hapless Cech the wrong way. It was no more than Everton deserved in a game in which they worked hard to keep themselves afloat in.
For Chelsea, it seems to be the same old disappointment; a disappointment that is becoming all too familiar this season. The dream of a third successive win is over and Ancelloti’s men must now turn their undivided attention to a crucial Champions League away leg at Copenhagen on Tuesday if they still dream of silverware.
What did you think of Nicolas Anelka’s ‘penalty’?…Should Ancelotti lambast the Frenchman for such a weak effort?…Is the Champions League the Blues only chance of success now?…please leave your comments below…
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