Pienaar-less Everton lose to Chelsea
Everton, who were without Bafana Bafana international Steven Pienaar, conceded a stoppage-time own-goal as 10-man Chelsea earned a 2-1 victory in the Carling Cup semi-final first leg at Stamford Bridge on Tuesday.
Avram Grant's hosts dominated the early stages and were rewarded when Shaun Wright-Phillips curled home a stunning 16-yard opener on 26 minutes.
The game changed 10 minutes after the break, however, when John Obi Mikel was dismissed by referee Peter Watson for a one-footed, studs-up challenge on Phil Neville.
The sending-off put some fire in Everton's belly and they drew level on 64 minutes when Blues goalkeeper Hilario flapped at and missed a James McFadden free-kick, which eventually fell to Aiyegbeni Yakubu, who lashed a half-volley into the roof of the net.
McFadden then hit the upright with a cross-cum-shot on 69 - but a dramatic late twist saw Wright-Phillips challenge Joleon Lescott for a header in the dying seconds, with the ball appearing to fly into the net off the Toffees defender's head.
It had been a fiery contest and despite the late setback, David Moyes will fancy his chances ahead of the second leg at Goodison Park on January 23.
Everton went into the game chasing their first silverware since the 1995 FA Cup success, while the Blues were defending their trophy.
Wayne Bridge will have been delighted to get the nod ahead of Ashley Cole in front of watching England coach Fabio Capello.
But it was England winger Wright-Phillips who caught the eye on 26 when he received a throughball from Florent Malouda, swivelled on a sixpence and brilliantly curled a shot past Tim Howard in off the upright.
Joe Cole nearly made it 2-0 two minutes later when he broke clear, but Howard saved his shot before seeing Michael Ballack smash a 19-yard free-kick inches wide of the woodwork.
Everton barely threatened the Blues' goal and Lescott's cross in the 37th minute was too close to Hilario with his team-mates queuing up to score.
But they were given hope 10 minutes into the second half when Walton followed the letter of the law and sent Mikel for an early bath.
Yakubu then got his side back in the tie with a stunning piledriver, but the Toffees came unstuck due to the unlucky Lescott's late blunder.