x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Ian Holloway gets his priorities all wrong as Everton advance in FA Cup

The FA Cup may no longer be England's most prestigious prize, but it has come to something when a Championship side plays a weakened team in the competition.

Everton's Seamus Coleman vies for the ball against Blackpool's Robert Harris at Goodison Park.
Everton's Seamus Coleman vies for the ball against Blackpool's Robert Harris at Goodison Park.

Everton 2  Blackpool 0

LIVERPOOL // There was a time when the FA Cup ranked as English football's most prestigious prize. Those days are long gone. But if Premier League teams giving that championship greater priority has has become a common theme, it is still a shock to the system when the second-tier Championship also seems to rank far ahead of the knockout competition that traditionalists still brand the best cup competition in the world.

The bare facts are that Blackpool, winners of perhaps the most famous final of all, in 1953, have not reached the last eight for 53 years.

On Tuesday, they face West Ham United, promotion rivals and favourites to win the Championship. And that, it seemed, took precedence. It was both a weakened and a weak side that forfeited their place in the FA Cup, allowing Everton, the 2009 finalists, to close in on a return to Wembley.

Their renaissance continues smoothly. They are unbeaten in seven games and in the upper half of the Premier League, and a third consecutive clean sheet at Goodison Park was hardly threatened.

Tim Howard saved well from Lomana LuaLua, while two Kevin Phillips set-pieces defeated the American and ended up in the Gwladys Street End: a free kick that clipped the bar and, more wastefully, an injury-time penalty that was skied. It would have given the score line a deceptive look.

"We are a million miles from them," conceded the Blackpool manager Ian Holloway. His decision to make seven changes had backfired and he drew a contrast between his side and a typically industrious Everton.

"They ran like they mean it. They tackle like they mean it. They close like they mean it."

And yet this ought to have offered Blackpool an opportunity. Both sides were stripped of key players, but for different reasons.

While the Seasiders rotated, Everton's options were reduced. This was not the side that overwhelmed Chelsea last week.

Leighton Baines vomited on the turf before kick-off but the sick left-back still started, partly because he had to. Moyes was running out of players, with Tim Cahill injured, Steven Pienaar cup-tied and Landon Donovan, who now returns to LA Galaxy after his loan spell concluded, ill. It scarcely mattered.

Without them, Everton carried on in the same vein. Winning can be infectious and the understudies seemed to have caught the virus sweeping through the camp. Because of them, the match was effectively over after six minutes. "I can't believe the start we had," Holloway said. "We made schoolboy errors."

They were punished. Matt Gilks had to retrieve the ball from his net after 49 seconds when Royston Drenthe finished emphatically after Magaye Gueye had broken on the left flank.

Marouane Fellaini, acting as the pivot in a fine movement, transferred the ball to the winger, who scored his third Everton goal.

It was followed by Denis Stracqualursi's third. The Argentine finished from close range after Gueye flicked on Drenthe's corner to the unmarked striker. The goals should have kept on coming.

"We had six or seven chances to put the game to bed," said David Moyes, the Everton coach. Several fell to Stracqualursi, who came closest when Gilks parried a volley.

He also headed over, as did Johnny Heitinga, while Darron Gibson had a volley blocked. The Irishman was thwarted, too, by Bob Harris, the left-back who cleared a Fellaini shot off the line.

"It wasn't embarrassing but it could have been a rout," Holloway said.

Yet, as Moyes said: "When you play Blackpool, you are never in control." That was illustrated in the closing stages in Blackpool's belated rally but any chance of a fight back disappeared when, after Heitinga was penalised for a challenge on Roman Bednar, Phillips's penalty flew into the hordes of Everton fans who had long since started singing about revisiting Wembley.

"We're desperate to get to the final and win the final," Moyes said. "From the first day of my first year here, we wanted to win a trophy."

It has eluded them, but the Scot's determined efforts mean a neutral will be cheering Everton on in the remaining stages.

Holloway said: "Wouldn't it be nice if Dave won something?"

Other results

Chelsea 1 Birmingham City 1

Millwall 0 Bolton Wanderers 2

Norwich City 1 Leicester City 2

Sunderland 2 Arsenal 0