DAVID SMITH - Tuesday, February 16, 2010
Landon Donovan and the Toffees came up with the win against their Portuguese opposition, but will be disappointed to have conceded a needless away goal late in the game to set up a nervy return leg in Lisbon.
Everton keeper Tim Howard looked to have secured his fourth shut-out in this season's competition to leave the Toffees with a straightforward path to the round of 16 until Miguel Veloso's late penalty strike handed Sporting a lifeline.
The hosts carved out a handful of scoring opportunities in the first half-hour capped by a poorly-executed attempt by Donovan to lob keeper Rui Patrício in a one-on-one situation at the half-hour mark, before they finally got on the board in the 35th minute.
A low pass by Phil Neville sent Australian international Tim Cahill into the right side of the area and into dangerous position with only the keeper to beat. Rather than take his chances with the tight shot, Cahill instinctively dropped a short back-heel to teammate Steven Pienaar, who made easy work of his shot from 18 yards to put the Toffees in the lead.
While Sporting refused to fall over after the setback, the lead was doubled four minutes after the break when Patrício failed to grab a corner from Leighton Baines, with the loose ball bouncing off of Sylvain Distin's thigh and into the net for a seemingly accidental second Toffees goal.
With the hosts several times failing to further increase their lead to effectively put the series out of reach, Distin went from hero to goat in the final minutes of the game after he was carelessly dispossessed of the ball then subsequently toppled Liedson in clumsy fashion just inside the area.
With the defender being shown red for his efforts as last defender, Veloso stepped up to the spot and nailed his low shot to the left as Howard dove the wrong way to grab the all-important away goal for the visitors.
The 2-1 advantage does give the Toffees the luxury of only needing a draw in next Thursday's return let in Lisbon to advance, however they will likely need to get on the scoreboard as Sporting have yet to be shut out in this season's Europa League at their Estádio José Alvalade.
In the meantime, they first have the daunting task of continuing their strong Premier League run when Manchester United pay a visit to Goodison Park on Saturday afternoon.
Clint Dempsey is out with a knee injury and will not suit up when Fulham host reigning UEFA Cup champions Shakhtar Donetsk on Thursday in their round of 32 home leg.
Oguchi Onyewu is still recovering from a knee injury and did not take part in AC Milan's 3-2 loss to Manchester United in the San Siro during the first leg of their round of 16 knockout series in the Champions League.