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Everton FC 2, Sporting Lisbon 1: Injuries and late away goal cloud Blues' Europa League win
Published : 17 Feb 2010 05:00:00
PROGRESS does not automatically come at a cost, it just seems that way if you follow Everton. Despite being ravaged by widespread injury, the Blues have turned a potential campaign of mediocrity into another stab at challenging for European qualification. That spirited recovery from an appalling start to the season was notably assisted by the fine form of their emerging midfield enigma Marouane Fellaini. But just as David Moyes begins to welcome back influential long-term casualties like Mikel Arteta to complement the Belgian in midfield, just when the light slowly begins to seep into the mouth of the tunnel, just when you think any further injuries would be beyond ludicrous. It's then that fate decides to throw Everton another atrociously bad hand. News of Fellaini's potential six-month absence with an ankle ligament injury sustained in the Anfield derby, hung over a barely believing Goodison like a black cloud before kick-off yesterday. And that sense of one step forward being consistently accompanied by two steps back was reflected again in the how the first leg of this Europa League last 32 tie concluded. Everton were in control of the tie with a two-goal lead and looking good for a no-nonsense trip to Lisbon which should have been academic. Instead, Tim Cahill was forced off through injury. With the Australian's steadying influence and experience lost, the Blues began to defend deeper and deeper. Then Jack Rodwell needlessly passed back to Sylvain Distin, the centre-half inexplicably lost possession and suddenly, he was red-carded and Sporting had a vital away goal. David Moyes had stressed beforehand the importance of Everton not conceding. The Scot has matured as a European tactician, and there was little he could do about the way his charges made life difficult for themselves ahead of next week's visit to the Estadio Jose Alvalade. Moyes had also spoken in the build-up to the game about the need for his side to show patience during the home leg. They appeared to have listened, adopting a steady but unhurried pace in a comfortable first half.