An unconvincing Everton edged past Championship strugglers Rotherham United to move into the FA Cup Fourth Round.
Carlo Ancelotti made several changes to his Everton side for the tie, with the likes of Robin Olsen, Anthony Gordon and Cenk Tosun all given opportunities to impress. The starting eleven did not lack first team faces however, with Michael Keane, Ben Godfrey, James Rodríguez and the returning Lucas Digne all featuring from the start.
This combination of those on the fringe and key members of Everton’s first team was to work well in the opening ten minutes, with the home side starting the match with a great zip and energy to their game. This was rewarded with an excellent opening goal, with Gordon breaking the visitors’ press with a superb pass into Tosun, who finished impeccably past the on-rushing Millers goalkeeper Jamal Blackman.
— Everton (@Everton) January 9, 2021
But, as is often the case in knockout football, Everton failed to capitalise upon this terrific start and regressed into careless and passive patterns of play. This allowed Rotherham to grab control of proceedings, with the likes of Matt Crooks and Ben Wiles pulling the strings at the heart of their midfield. Their dominance was to lead to good chances for tricky wing-back Matthew Olosunde and midfielder Daniel Barlaser, with both players producing good saves from Olsen in the Gwladys Street goal.
Despite their advantage going into the break, Everton will have felt extremely relieved to have survived this mounting Rotherham pressure and aware that much improvement was needed if they were to guarantee a place in the hat for Round 4.
Half Time: Everton 1-0 Rotherham United
Sadly, there were no signs of improvement to The Blues’ game as the second half kicked off. Anxious when playing out from the back, timid in the tackle and imprecise when entering the final third, the hosts were completely off colour and presented Rotherham with some wonderful openings, one of which they were able to punish with devastating effect.
After a scrappy passage of play in Everton’s box, the ball fell kindly for Olosunde, who’s turn and shot trickled past a helpless Olsen to bring the away side level. It was exactly what Rotherham’s endeavours deserved and a stark reminder for Ancelotti’s men that, despite their superiority in terms of league position and form, they were very much involved in a cup tie.
56 | GOOOAAAALLLL
The Millers are level and it is no more than they deserve here, Olosunde squeezes the ball past Olsen on the turn!
— Rotherham United (@OfficialRUFC) January 9, 2021
Much to the Italian and Evertonians’ frustrations, this equaliser did not inject any real life into Everton’s game, with The Toffees continuing to opt for the easy choices in their passing, movement and tackling. Whilst the visitors deserve praise for their compact defensive shape and relentless pressing, Everton’s second half performance failed to really test or dominate Rotherham and provides yet another example of how those who often find themselves on Ancelotti’s bench or out of his favour are there for good reason.
That being said, Everton thought they had stolen a victory with seconds left to spare. A superb freekick from Rodríguez was glanced home by Tosun, to leave the hosts relieved and the visitors deflated. However, after a short VAR check, the officials ruled that the Turkish striker was offside by the finest of margins, thus taking the game to extra time.
Full Time After 90 Mins: Everton 1- 1 Rotherham United
With extra-time underway, the fears of another third round exit for Everton were growing. But, fortunately, The Blues were to secure their passage into the next round early in the first period, with a wonderful exchange between Rodríguez and substitute Abdoulaye Doucouré concluding with the Frenchman’s first Goodison Park goal.
It was an excellent finish from Doucouré who since entering the fray midway through the second half had been Everton’s most impressive midfielder. Combative in the tackle and always eager to move forward, Doucouré’s contribution to this and many of The Toffees’ recent performances illustrates how that he is an integral part of Ancelotti’s outfit and very much the engine room of its midfield.
Whilst there were few nervy moments as the clock ticked towards the 120 minute mark, Everton were able to hold onto victory and secure their place in the next round. Despite a performance that was imperfect in pretty much every way, The Toffees’ win ticked the three major boxes their manager and supporters were looking for: match sharpness for returning figures, rest for attacking stars and progression into the FA Cup Fourth Round for the first time since 2016.
You can’t really argue much about that.
Full Time A.E.T: Everton 2-1 Rotherham United
Man of the Match: Matthew Olosunde (Rotherham United)
🗣 | In the hat and switching focus to Wolves away on Tuesday.
— Everton (@Everton) January 9, 2021