Romelu Lukaku fired Everton into the FA Cup semi-finals with a breathtaking solo goal against former club Chelsea.
An edgy quarter-final at Goodison Park came alive in the 77th minute when Lukaku bull-dozed his way into the Chelsea area, twisting and turning before slotting coolly into the far corner.
The Belgian added his second with a powerful low drive before Diego Costa and Gareth Barry both saw red late on.
Lukaku goal will live long in Gwladys Street folklore
There have been plenty of “I was there” moments at Goodison throughout its 124-year history and Lukaku’s stunning solo goal was worthy of mention alongside the most historic Gwaldys Street goals. Kevin Sheedy (not unfamiliar with an iconic goal or two) seemed to think it deserved a place in such a list:
— Kevin Sheedy (@kevin11sheedy) March 12, 2016
Andy Gray’s strike against Bayern Munich, Tony Cottee’s last-ditch effort in the 4-4 derby draw, Mikel Arteta’s thunderbolt versus Fiorentina. And now Lukaku’s powerful and skilful run and finish.
The goal will be replayed again and again leading up to the semi-final and should Everton go all the way in the FA Cup, it will be a night to recall on fondly for Evertonians. While fan testimonies can be hazy with nostalgia and colourfully illustrated, the figures that back up Lukaku’s increasing status of legend are plain.
The Belgian has now scored 25 goals in 36 games in all competitions this season, the most since Cottee in 1991 (24).
His powerful second strike under the legs of Courtois was his 119th club career goal. 61 of those have come in Everton-blue in just 117 appearances; better than a goal every other game.
He’s also the third player in Everton’s history to score in five successive FA Cup games, following in the illustrious footsteps of Dixie Dean in 1933 and Fred Pickering in 1966. Everton went on to lift the famous trophy in both those years – who’d bet against another cup success in 2016?
Rom & Ross’ growing partnership is just the start
There’s already so much to admire about Lukaku and Barkley, but what is incredibly exciting about the pair is that their partnership is still blossoming.
Since first teaming up in the 2013/14 season the duo have got better and better as individuals, developing their precocious talents into consistent performances. But together they have the chance to lead this young Everton side to its first major trophy in 21 years.
Lukaku’s 25 goals have seen him at the right end of the scoring charts, with only Jamie Vardy netting more in the Premier League. Barkley has 10 goals of his own so far this year, following a season of struggles in 2014/15.
Just as importantly for a No 10, Barkley has stood up and taken on Everton’s creative responsibility this year. In addition to his 12 assists in all competitions this season, the midfielder has created 45 chances in the league and has an average pass accuracy of 87%.
And with Barkley still just 22 and Lukaku two months shy of his 23rd birthday, this is just the beginning of a relationship yet to fully come into bloom.
Barry was unflinching in his Costa wind up
Goalscoring chances were few and far between in a first half characterised by cagey approaches from both sides. The most notable moments involved the snarling Costa, out on day release and out for blood.
Everton, led by the experienced Barry, were wise to the potential result of a Costa-wind up and were able to turn the key in the angry toy’s back and watch him go.
While Costa thrives on the art of gamesmanship, the early yellow card for a tangle with Barry only served to pacify the Spaniard, transforming him from blood-thirsty tiger to docile pussy cat.
From the 12th minute Costa knew he was walking a delicate tightrope, and while he often dropped deep to join in with Cesc Fabregas and Pedro, his goalscoring threat had been nulified.
It was refreshing to see Everton deal with the Spaniard and all-but eliminate the threat so efficiently, while Barry’s composure in the 85th minute when accosted by the snarling, barking forward was first-class.
What was not so top-drawer was Barry’s foolish second yellow for a cynical trip that chalked off Everton’s numerical advantage. After the earlier nuzzle with Costa, we can only assume he was keen to carry on where they left off and join the Chelsea man for an early bath.
There’s no place like home when Goodison rocks
“Why can’t it be like that every week?”
That was the question on Evertonians’ lips as they bounced out of Goodison Park. On only seven occasions have supporters left L4 with that winning feeling; a miserable fact that is often fuel for the Martinez-Out campaign.
But when the conditions are right, there is no better experience for match-going Blues. Evening kick-off; floodlights on; FA Cup quarter final; place at Wembley up for grabs; new investor in town. Even though the game saw limited moments of quality, it was a full-blooded, high-stakes game with both teams desperate to win.
And of course the occasion would have been meaningless without the constant singing and roars from the home crowd. When both players and fans are pulling in the right direction, there really is no place like home.
Moshiri gets immediate return on investment
Farhad Moshiri took his seat in the directors box for the first time as a principal shareholder in the club. And what a first game to pick.
The British-Iranian billionaire got a first-hand look at the club’s finest assets in Lukaku and Barkley as well as a taste of the Goodison faithful at their best.
In his programme notes, Moshiri stated his intention to provide funds for transfers, retain the club’s best players and address the stadium issue.
Reassuring indeed for Toffees and if Moshiri needed any reassurance himself on what he can expect for his initial outlay, then Lukaku’s stunning individual display and Everton’s collective effort to book an FA Cup semi-final date would surely be enough to put his mind at ease.