Everton drew first blood in their League Cup semifinal against Manchester City as Romelu Lukaku’s second-half header secured a potentially precious 2-1 home win in the first leg on Wednesday.
City’s Jesus Navas had only moments before cancelled out Ramiro Funes Mori’s first-half opener, when Lukaku struck in the 78th minute, rising unchallenged to head home Gareth Barry’s arcing left-wing cross.
The goal gave Everton, who have never won the League Cup, a deserved advantage to take into the second leg on January 27 after they dominated proceedings at Goodison Park and restricted City to infrequent counter-attacks.
Awaiting the winners in the final will be either Liverpool or Stoke City, with Everton’s Merseyside rivals holding a 1-0 advantage after the first leg.
The early stages panned out exactly as City manager Manuel Pellegrini would have hoped, the visitors hogging possession, pegging Everton back in their own half and silencing the home crowd in their bid for a fourth League Cup triumph.
Yet they failed to convert that dominance into meaningful chances with Nicolas Otamendi heading the best opportunity of the opening half wide, before Everton clawed their way into the game.
The hosts had two goals chalked off for offside before they made their mark on the scoreboard, John Stones and Lukaku putting the ball in the net only to have celebrations curtailed by the linesman’s flag.
There was also a hint of offside about the opener when Lukaku appeared to be standing behind the last defender and potentially in City keeper Willy Caballero’s line of sight when he parried Ross Barkley’s firm shot into the path of Funes Mori.
The Argentine controlled the ball well and fired past City’s stand-in keeper in first-half stoppage time.
Everton turned the screw early in the second half as Lukaku’s physicality proved difficult for City’s defence to handle, but the visitors were unlucky not to level on 60 minutes when Sergio Aguero sliced a good chance wide.
The more Everton pushed for a second goal, however, the further ajar they left the door for a City counter.
Kevin De Bruyne served warning by forcing Everton’s stand-in keeper Joel Robles into a superb save with a curling shot from 20 metres before Navas punished the hosts on the break, latching on to Aguero’s pass to finish across the keeper.
That lead lasted just two minutes as Everton immediately struck back when Lukaku rose to head home Barry’s sumptuous cross from the left flank and City mustered little in the closing stages.