Sporting v Everton
Everton's Europa League dream is over.
David Moyes' men suffered a heartbreaking 3-0 defeat against Sporting Lisbon in the Portuguese capital to head out of the competition at the last 32 stage.
Leading 2-1 from the first leg, the Blues needed only a draw to progress but second-half goals from midfielders Miguel Veloso, Pedro Mendes and Matias Fernandez mean Everton must now concentrate solely on the on-going Premier League battle to securing European football for next season.
One positive is that Moyes will have Phil Jagielka back for the campaign's run-in. A second-half injury to Philippe Senderos forced the Scot to hand the fit-again centre back his comeback after 10 months out with a knee injury, prompting the loudest Everton cheer on an otherwise forgettable evening.
Going into the game the ineligibility of John Heitinga and suspension of Sylvain Distin gave David Moyes a defensive headache. He had stated in the build up that he would not hesitate to use Jagielka if he needed him, though, in truth, he was never likely to start and the manager instead drafted in Joseph Yobo for only his second appearance of 2010 and the on-loan Senderos for a first for Everton in Europe.
With the margins so tight you could understand a cautious Everton approach that was evident from the first whistle.
Louis Saha spent much of the opening period isolated in attack with little to feed off, though at the other end clear-cut Sporting chances were also kept at a premium.
Things may have been different had Marat Izmailov's wriggle inside the box left him more central on four minutes. Instead his angle was tight and the Russian's shot was parried away to safety by Tim Howard.
Sporting's best chance of the half came when Senderos gave away a free-kick on the edge of the box 12 minutes later, allowing Moutinho to take aim. The one-time Everton target saw his shot come back off the crossbar before Liedson made a mess of the rebound, lashing wide of the upright.
Alongside Senderos, Yobo was determined to block the hosts' route to goal and before the half was out he stopped a goalbound shot from Izmailov. The Nigerian was unfortunate to see the ball find its way back to the midfielder but his second attempt was scuffed closer to the corner flag than Howard's goal.
Before the half was out, Everton had the ball in the net when Senderos slid in to convert a deep Leighton Baines free-kick, but the defender was penalised for offside.
The opening minutes of the second half were a reflection of much of what had gone before but significantly saw Senderos sustain a knock which would ultimately bring about Jagielka's long-awaited return. Though he limped on at first, Senderos was in clear discomfort, forcing Moyes to prove he, as promised, had no fears over turning to last season's Player of the Year.
He emerged to a rapturous applause from the travelling Evertonians which predictably matched the passion of that which greeted Mikel Arteta's return from an almost identical lay off against Birmingham last month.
Sporting though were getting braver and increasingly audacious in their search for a goal and Djalo fired narrowly over from 20-yards before Moutinho tested Howard's reflexs with a volley the American turned away brilliantly.
The home side's growing desperation caused gaps to appear at the other end and a little over the hour mark Steven Pienaar went close with Everton's first real chance. Latching on to a loose ball 25-yards out, the South African noticed Rui Patricio out of position but saw his curling effort bend agonisingly wide of the post.
The near-miss was made all the more excrutiating just two minutes later as Djalo played in Veloso. The scorer of Sporting's all-important away goal in the first leg held his run to stay on-side and thundered a shot inside Howard's near post.
Before that Diniyar Bilyaletdinov had made way for the hero of Saturday's 3-1 win over Manchester United, Jack Rodwell, and now needing a goal, Moyes threw on Yakubu for Landon Donovan. With more to aim for in attack, the Blues began launching balls into the box. One fell the way of Saha, but the Frenchman saw his improvised effort blocked inside the six-yard box.
It was now end-to-end and within seconds Sporting had their second. Jagielka did well to harry Moutinho away from goal but the midfielder laid the ball off for Mendes whose first-time effort deflected off the England man's studs enough to carry it beyond the helpless Howard. The centre back could clearly be seen telling his team-mates it didn't really make a difference; Everton still needed to score just the once to take the tie into extra time.
Despite the best efforts of every player in Blue it proved elusive and a Europa League exit was confirmed when Fernandez danced through to make it three in injury-time. It is Sporting, not Everton, who can now look forward to a last 16 meeting with Atletico Madrid.