The following is an expanded version of the initial match report published straight after the game
There was a moment with about 15 minutes gone and Everton already a goal to the good where the mind drifted to wondering how many the Blues might get this afternoon. James Rodriguez was starting his first game in more than a month, sitting deep in more of a play-maker role alongside a Portuguese international in André Gomes and a potentially enterprising Alex Iwobi.
Anthony Gordon was relishing his rare opportunity to shine, having already come close to scoring himself with Everton’s first real attack and then carved Rotherham’s defence open with a pass that Cenk Tosun clipped past the advancing goalkeeper to make it 1-0 and Lucas Digne was back at left-back having made an improbably quick recovery from ankle surgery.
That kind of complacency is harmless as a watching fan but it’s potentially damaging if it’s adopted by the players. And yet, hubris is exactly what appeared to infect the Everton team as they lost control of this tie for long periods, allowed the Millers to equalise and then remained vulnerable to an FA Cup shock until Carlo Ancelotti reminded them, perhaps, during the break before the start of extra-time that they were supposed to be the Premier League outfit in this equation.
With an important League game at Wolves looming on Tuesday, the extra 30 minutes’ toll won’t have pleased the manager but his players at least responded, restoring their lead thanks to a beautiful pass from James and eventually closing out a match they should have won at a canter without much further bother.
The 70 minutes that preceded extra-time were pretty grim and despite the quality in their ranks there were times when it threatened to plumb the depths of the last FA Cup tie over which Ancelotti presided just over a year ago against Liverpool’s youngsters. The starting line-up this afternoon may only have featured two players from that horrendous display at Anfield in Digne and Seamus Coleman but there were unnerving parallels in the sheer levels of ineptitude and lack of drive and tempo.
It should never have been this way, particularly after Gordon had gone on a mazy run in the second minute and then effected a brilliant turn away from his marker in the ninth and before playing Tosun in with a well-weighted pass to hand the Turkish international his first goal of the season, one he secured with a very good finish.
But from the moment that Rotherham, a team currently sitting 23rd in the Championship, mounted their first few attacks and realised there wasn’t much to fear from a midfield boasting Gomes and Tom Davies, they began to grow in confidence and ambition. Davies had struggled in the League Cup tie against Salford earlier this season to really stamp his authority on a game against inferior opposition and he was largely disappointing again today. Gomes, meanwhile, continues to confound, sometimes looking lively and purposeful in cameos off the bench but then failing miserably to deliver when handed the chance to really stake a claim to a starting role.
You sensed that Everton were almost gambling that the visitors wouldn’t have the quality to find their way past Robin Olsen, particularly given some wayward first-half shooting from Michaels Ihiekwe and Smith in the 21st minute. However, they found Matthew Olosunde on Rotherham’s right flank increasingly difficult to handle and it was the American who eventually wiped out Tosun’s opener, but not before he had forced a good save from Olsen in the 22nd minute, the rebound of which was met by a weak effort from Matt Crooks and cleared. The ball only made it as far as Daniel Barlaser, though, and Olsen had to push his crisp shot from 20-plus yards over the bar.
Crooks then narrowly missed with a glancing header off a corner and Olsen had to nip in and punch ball away from Ihiekwe’s a few minutes later as the visitors continued to apply pressure.
Everton briefly came to life again towards the end of the first period but at the end of a well-worked move that saw Seamus Coleman collect a “one-two” pass from Alex Iwobi, Tosun could only scuff the Irishman’s cross wide of the far post.
If the latter half of the first half had been poor from the Blues, worse was to follow in the second. Olosunde sounded another warning immediately after the restart when he eased past Digne and went down in the box under the attentions of Gomes but referee Stuart Atwell saw nothing in the challenge.
Then, after Iwobi had dragged an effort across goal at one end, Rotherham levelled the tie at the other, capitalising on sloppiness in Everton’s midfield and a wayward header from Davies that fell to Olosunde and he drilled the ball past Olsen in the 56th minute.
The required response from the Premier League side failed to materialise and Olosunde out-stripped Digne and centred where Wes Harding arrived from the other full-back position but his attempted curler was well wide.
With an hour gone, Ancelotti withdrew Gordon, whose early flourishes had faded as Everton’s cohesion had evaporated, in favour of Bernard and Iwobi for Doucouré and then swapped Davies for Gylfi Sigurdsson and Digne for Yerry Mina five minutes later but the changes sparked very little life into the home side’s performance.
They didn’t win their first corner until Rodriguez’s shot from 20-odd yards was deflected behind in the 73rd minute and would finish normal time having registered just a single legitimate shot on target. That’s because Tosun’s strike off a James free-kick from the left was adjudged by Video Assistant Referee Paul Tierney to have been offside.
Thankfully for Ancelotti, Everton began extra-time looking more like the superior side and Rodriguez would depart the action in the 94th minute having got to experience his first January cup-tie against lower-division opposition by taking a ball to the face in cold weather, bloody nose and all, and made a telling contribution that underscored his importance to this team a couple of minutes beforehand. Sliding a super ball between two defenders, the Colombian put Doucouré into the clear and the Frenchman made no mistake with a composed left-foot finish.
Bernard should have made the game safe a few minutes later when James’s replacement, Niels Nkounkou, crossed from the left but the Brazilian’s placed shot came back off the post. Tosun choked another shot wide a minute after that and Coleman forced a parried save from Blackman in the Rotherham goal with a strong drive from 18 yards.
The Championship team’s fire had been extinguished by this point and they barely threatened Olsen’s goal in the final 30 minutes, leaving Everton to see out the game and advance, but not without having perpetuated serious concerns about the players’ collective mentality and the suitability of certain players to the Ancelotti project moving forward. If this is what the Italian can expect from his players in future rounds then the Toffees have as much chance of reaching Wembley this season as near neighbours Marine.
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