It was never going to be an easy game, but, the fans made it as easy as it was ever going to get with their spectacular atmosphere. The Everton supporters really rattled the Manchester City players and Goodison was once again rocking because of it.
The first goal was crucial to not only the atmosphere, but to both legs of the semi final tie. If Manchester City snatched it the atmosphere would have been a little nervy and edgy and the first leg may have seen a different outcome. But, that didn't happen and after the Toffees' none-stop pressure on City's goal, they eventually took the lead through a Ramiro Funes Mori strike seven yards out. And, just as it would have if the goal came from the away team, it really set the tone for the rest of the match.
Although the Blues did concede an equaliser midway through the second half, it was never of concern as they shown some strong mentality and went straight up the other end and scored thanks to a wonderful cross from Gareth Barry and a great header by Romelu Lukaku.
The central duo
Barry goes massively under the radar when it comes to the plaudits after games for Everton. On Wednesday however, he deserved all the accolades, plaudits and mentions he got after a stellar performance. Barry ran the show in front of the back four and taking Everton forward in transition, working wonderfully in combination with his partner in crime Muhamed Besic, who we will speak about shortly.
The ex-Manchester City man wanted to show his old club exactly how to play a game of such importance and his performance rolled back his 34 years to his younger days. Providing, defending and directing; three words that would sum it up perfectly.
Barry wasn't the only one, next to him was a Bosnian with a point to prove and Mo Besic did just that. I'm still wondering today if David Silva and Yaya Toure have managed to climb out of Besic's back pocket yet! Crunching tackles, determination to close down players with possession and, above all, a true Everton passion that has been lacking in our team. If Mo hasn't gained himself a place in Roberto's side for next Wednesday league fixture away to Man City then he will have every right to be unhappy.
Barry and Besic worked wonderfully in combination with each other, whilst the one got forward, the other made sure anything that came the other way was covered. They defended their midfield as a partnership and played some scintillating pass out to the wings and forward to Lukaku. Very impressive indeed.
It would be wrong of us to only mention Roberto Martinez when things aren't going right or when he makes a few strange decisions. But, on Wednesday I can only talk about how well fitted his tactics were for such a game. The Spanish boss realised exactly what was needed and that Everton couldn't go to the Etihad on the back of draw or defeat, so a win was a must. It wasn't just any old win though, this win included a well protected defence, bolstered by Besic alongside Barry and when that was breached a defensive line (including the goalkeeper) that had confidence to prevent almost every attack that came in their direction.
Everton began the game seemingly happy to let City have the ball and hit on the counter, similar to the tactics employed against Spurs. They looked much more solid at the back than they have in recent weeks, but became increasingly dangerous going forward as the game progressed.
Martinez ensured he picked the players that would be able to play at a high tempo, stand up to the occasion and make a difference to the game when needed. The way the Toffees went at Manchester City took me back to last season and almost all of our games in the Europa league or even Roberto's first full season in charge when we were too hot for most teams to handle. It almost begs the question, why can't we show that performance every week?
Well, here's one reason, the effort that those players put in could not be expected to be matched over a regular run of games. The tempo in parts of the match was so high that people watching may have struggled to keep up! You could see how much it took out of our players with Seamus Coleman pulling his calf, that is an injury that is caused by fatigue or cramp that isn't eradicated quickly enough. Lukaku and Gerard Deulofeu had to be subbed as their legs wouldn't allow them to run anymore. The effort was an effort you'd expect in this stage of a cup competition and to be honest, anything less probably wouldn't have seen us get the win. All the work and effort though has to be matched or bettered in the second leg to ensure we keep hold of the lead we currently have in the tie.
The Spanish goalkeeper deserves this mention and not just because of his performance, but also due to how the feel amongst the players appeared with Robles behind them. John Stones looked so much more easy and confident in leaving things for Robles to claim or clear away. Funes Mori had another outstanding game and I believe that was largely due to him being as relaxed as he was with Spanish shot-stopper behind him. The whole thing appeared so much more confident and assured than what it has been with Tim Howard around.
It's easy to forget the saves he made but they certainly kept us in the game. A short fired shot from David Silva that was destined for the top corner was athletically prevented. The best of the bunch came in the second half and was vital to Everton keeping on top, a shot fired from the 18 yard box from Kevin de Bruyne was ready to smash its way into the bottom left corner of Robles' goal before he miraculously pulled a save out of the bag to keep his side ahead.
Tim Howard has been given just too many chances over the last couple of seasons and a change is long overdue. It isn't only performances that Howard is displaying thats making fans call for the change, its the way the defence performs with the American in goal. Everything is very edgy and it looks as though there is a lack of communication and confidence between Howard and the defence. Robles was given a big test on Wednesday and he passed with flying colours (royal blue of course!).