Everton Undone By Second-Half Porto Strike

by Paul McNamara

Moussa Marega’s strike six minutes after half-time condemned Everton to a single-goal defeat by Porto in the Algarve Football Cup.

The outcome was tough on the Blues, who created a slew of chances in the opening 45 minutes and had opportunities to level after falling behind.

Manager Marco Silva made nine changes from the team which drew with Lille on Saturday – reverting to the XI which started last week at Bury – and watched his refreshed side overrun Porto in the game’s initial stages.

Iker Casillas tipped over Kevin Mirallas’ whipped shot after a bout of sustained and purposeful Everton possession on nine minutes. Porto goalkeeper Casillas nearly undid his good work, however, charging from his line in pursuit of Sandro’s corner but getting nothing of note on the ball. The former Real Madrid man wriggled off the hook, with Morgan Schneiderlin, at the far post, unable to twist his body sufficiently to steer the ball on target.

Casillas’ vulnerability under the high ball evidently planted a seed in the Blues’ minds. Kieran Dowell stuck a corner into a congested six-yard box just past the half hour and watched the decorated 37-year-old make a meal of trying to claim the cross. Mirallas turned the ball back into a scrum of bodies, among them Porto forward Adrian Lopez, dutifully stationed to smash clear and bail out his number one.

Before all that, Casillas had little time to reflect on his early escapades – a fact which spoke of the pressure Everton applied on the Portuguese champions’ goal from the off.

The Spaniard saved down to his right from Dowell after the incisive Sandro torched a hole in Porto’s rearguard with his positive running and measured pass.

And Dowell was the beneficiary of more imaginative Everton play on 20 minutes. Leighton Baines slid a pass down the left for Cenk Tosun, who reached the byline before steering the ball back to Dowell, via a sharp touch from Mirallas, for a first-time strike which Casillas held down by his feet.

Porto were struggling to keep a lid on Everton’s attacking quartet, with Tosun’s energy and movement pulling his opponents’ defence this way and that, while Sandro, Dowell and Mirallas buzzed about behind the Turk, that peppy trio brimming with purpose and invention.

There seemed little on for Tosun as he watched Seamus Coleman’s lifted 24th-minute cross onto his boot. One wonderful cushioned touch later and the situation was a whole lot more promising. Tosun shimmied, outfoxing a scrum of converging defenders, nudged the ball where he wanted it and caressed an attempt goalwards – but against the outside of Casillas’ right post.

Maarten Stekelenburg had his wits about him to pouch Otavio’s inswinging cross, the Dutchman’s task lent a hazardous dimension by Vincent Aboubakar zipping across his line of sight and narrowly failing to connect with the Brazilian’s delivery.

Sandro – who would have perhaps had a sense of déjà vu when he wore a boot in the face early on, 24 hours after Lille had roughed him up in the opening exchanges of the Blues’ first game in Portugal – lashed a shot into the side netting on the half hour.

Everton, by the reckoning of Club legend Graeme Sharp commentating on the game, were giving Porto a “chasing”. It was hard to disagree.

But with half-time approaching the two-times European champions started to bare their teeth. Centre-half Felipe’s header from Alex Telles’ left-wing corner forced Stekelenburg into a stop down to his left.

And after Sandro was harshly judged to have fouled Yacine Brahimi as he tracked the Algerian winger, Telles’ free-kick was touched into the net by an offside Aboubakar.

There was nothing hooky about Porto’s strike on 51 minutes, however. Marega strode onto Otavia’s punched through ball and slid an accomplished finish between the legs of the advancing Stekelenburg.

Indeed, Otavia had already dished up a warning about his capacity for causing trouble when he sent a cross hurrying through Everton's six-yard box immediately after the break. He was furious to lift his head and see none of his teammates had made a beeline for the danger zone.

An errant linesman’s flag stopped Dowell in his tracks as the attacker threatened to break clear on 62 minutes.

Stekelenburg, though, was progressively finding more action to occupy his time. Right-back Joao Pedro could see what was unfolding as Brahimi glided infield and charged the length of the field to collect the winger’s pass. Pedro met his match in Stekelenburg, though, the Everton ‘keeper springing to his right to save.

Pedro was possibly still thinking about what might have been when he allowed Tosun to sneak in front of him and meet Sandro’s whipped cross from the right with a header which flew over the top of Casillas’ goal.

Silva sent on Nikola Vlasic for Mirallas with 17 minutes remaining, a move which prompted a clutch of changes – Mason Holgate, who brilliantly tackled Saidy Janko with the Swiss poised to pull the trigger, Oumar Niasse and Mo Besic all introduced late in the piece.

Everton could not locate the equaliser their ambition and endeavour probably deserved. Of more pressing importance, with the Premier League season creeping into view, was that Silva’s side had a decent test against very good opponents – and showed further signs of progress under their new boss.

On both of those counts, it was an extremely useful night’s work.

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