Bittersweet win for the Toffees
Sylvain Distin was sent off and Everton have work to do if a place in the last 16 of the Europa League is to be secured despite a 2-1 victory. Miguel Veloso pulled a goal back from the penalty spot with four minutes remaining in the first leg of their last-16 Europa League clash at Goodison Park. He had no problems converting after Distin was dismissed for flooring Liedson as he tried to surge clear. It was a dramatic twist to the game and that away goal could yet prove crucial when the teams meet in the return a week on Thursday. Everton were in control until that stage thanks to goals from Steven Pienaar and Distin in either half.
The Toffees went into the match on the back of a superb victory against Chelsea and almost took the lead in the 12th minute when Tim Cahill put Louis Saha through. However, the striker saw his shot blocked by Rui Patricio and the goalkeeper then smothered the rebound from Leon Osman. Everton stepped up the pace and Cahill headed wide four minutes later following a corner from Leighton Baines. However, Sporting launched a swift counter-attack in the 18th minute and Pienaar did well to divert a shot from Matias Fernandez to safety. It was an open game and Saha made an unsuccessful appeal for a free-kick on the edge of the area after he appeared to be tripped by Daniel Carrico following a through ball from Pienaar.
Saha protested but referee Darko Ceferin would have none of it and allowed play to continue. Considering their domestic form has been poor, Sporting did not appear to be lacking in confidence and Abel saw his ambitious effort go narrowly wide in the 26th minute. Everton made the breakthrough in the 35th minute after Sporting were cut apart by an incisive move. Phil Neville released Cahill and he back-heeled the ball into the path of Pienaar, who swept it home. It was just the boost Everton were looking for, especially after twice being beaten by Sporting's neighbours Benfica in the group stages.
Back came the visitors, though, and Maret Izmailov showed good skill two minutes later to cut inside and set up Pedro Mendes. But Tim Howard got down quickly to parry the former Rangers midfielder's effort. Everton again found themselves on the back foot in the 40th minute when Izmailov rattled in a shot that came back off the post. The home side hit back and a minute before half-time Saha headed over the bar following a free-kick from Baines. Everton needed only four minutes of the second half to extend their lead. Baines swung in a corner and Sporting goalkeeper Patricio came for the ball but failed to collect.
It broke to Distin at the back post and spun off his leg and into the net, although he did not appear to know too much about his effort. This was a good spell by Everton and Landon Donovan tried to chip Patricio in the 59th minute but the goalkeeper was equal to it. Saha also headed over the top following a free-kick from Donovan. Then Donovan saw a shot blocked as the home side tried to increase their advantage and put the tie out of Sporting's reach. Everton almost added a third goal in the 78th minute but Patricio did well to block a close-range shot from substitute Ayegbeni Yakubu. Then Saha forced a good stop from the goalkeeper four minutes later as Sporting again found themselves on the back foot. However, Veloso stepped up and coolly converted the spot kick, leaving Everton feeling anxious heading into the second leg.
Published: February 17, 2010 04:00 AM