Is it possible to fall in love with a foot? In a plutonic way, not the weird way. Can you feel an affection for one anatomical feature which has brought you much joy, an affection you may not even afford some family members?
The point is, I love Leighton Baines’ left foot. And I’m sure you do too.
The Baines left peg has produced plenty of moments of magic since he arrived from Wigan in summer 2007; a Sheedy-esque brace of free-kicks against West Ham, a bullet from range against Newcaslte, and a mass of set-pieces gratefully latched upon by Cahill, Fellaini, Lukaku et al. But one Baines special trumps them all – Everton’s 2010/11 Goal of the Season, a strike which set up a memorable victory during a largely forgettable season.
Everton went into their FA Cup fourth round replay with Premier League and FA Cup holders Chelsea on the back of a poor run of form – an all-round poor season, in fact. They had won just three times on the road before making the trip to Stamford Bridge – against Birmingham and Man City in the league, and Scunthorpe in the FA Cup. The League Cup campaign fell apart with a penalty shootout defeat to third tier Brentford, and preceding the replay Everton fell to a turgid 2-0 defeat to Bolton in a display David Moyes labelled one of the worst in his nine-year stay at the helm, falling to 13th and just three points clear of the relegation places.
But there was a modicum of hope for the unfancied Toffees. Chelsea themselves were not in fine fettle, dropping to fifth after a 0-0 draw with Fulham the week before. Jermaine Beckford had rescued a point in a 1-1 stalemate in West London a couple of months previously, while the original FA Cup tie between the two Blues ended the same way at Goodison Park. Everton had played well at home, and had nothing else to play for, while Chelsea were still distracted by the Champions League and a push for the top league spots.
That being said, there was no doubt who the favourites were. Only two sides had won at the Bridge in the league, Liverpool (two weeks before this tie) and – bizarrely – Sunderland. Newcastle beat a second-string side 4-3 in the League Cup, but Everton would have to deal with the strongest eleven the FA Cup holders, looking to win the trophy three years in a row, could put out.
Everton started brightly, but were unable to muster any clear chances. It was the hosts who came closest in the opening exchanges thanks to Phil Jagielka, who headed the ball on to his own post from an inswinging Frank Lampard free kick just before the 20-minute mark. From there, Carlo Ancelotti’s side took a firm grip on the game. Tim Howard and his defence saw off Lampard and Florent Malouda, before a superb touch and pass from Didier Drogba set the Frenchman clear. Howard closed the winger down swiftly though and blocked the effort on goal. There was one more scare before half time, as Ramires took a tumble, but the Brazilian was cautioned for simulation.
The second half began as the first ended, with Drogba and Lampard continuing to terrorise the Everton back line both in open play and from set pieces. But the away side were aware that, if they could create some chances, the game was as much there for the taking as it was for the hosts. Leon Osman registered a weak header on target, but there was still little else of note before the introduction of obvious heroic talisman candidate Diniyar Bilyaletdinov. The Russian had a header saved by Petr Cech before his cross was narrowly missed by fellow substitute Victor Anichebe.
Both sides came dramatically close to sealing victory in the closing stages. Lampard, receiving the ball 15 yards from goal after a scramble in the penalty area, opted to chip Howard. Thankfully, the England midfielder lofted the ball well over the crossbar. At the other end, Baines hit a right-footed effort that Cech failed to hold, and Marouane Fellaini converted on the rebound, only to be deemed offside. It was, of course, an absolute disgrace of a decision. Fellaini was clearly offside, but still, what a fix.
Two significant substitutions were made in extra time – Nicolas Anelka replaced Malouda, and four minutes later Johnny Heitinga came on for Osman. More on Heitinga’s impact later. The former Liverpool striker did not wait to influence the game, his squared ball finding Lampard, who slotted home.
The tension dissipated. The tie, it seemed, was over. Chelsea had found the killer blow they’d be threatening to deliver, and Everton were struggling to create any chances of note. As the game meandered into its final minute, home fans were ready to celebrate taking the next step towards possible silverware.
Jagielka, thrown forward as a makeshift striker for the closing stages of extra time, toppled under the challenge of Branislav Ivanovic. Chelsea set up their wall, Baines assessed his options. Then, surely and sweetly, the left back lifted the set piece over and to Cech’s left, into the right-hand corner of the net.
The away end erupted, the home fans silenced. That sole moment of inspiration had given Everton respite. Penalties had caused a humiliating League Cup exit, but the Blues – bedecked on this day in cream – had a chance of FA Cup redemption from the spot.
Frank Lampard got the shoot-out under way, and tucked his effort home. Then Baines stepped up – and Cech saved.
What an idiot. Always said that Baines was useless, didn’t I?
It was a blow. Leighton Baines does not miss penalties. In fact, he has only been denied three times – by David de Gea in the league, and by Petr Cech in both domestic cups. If he wasn’t to score, who was?
Everton nerves were not calmed by Drogba’s penalty, which was dispatched with ease. Phil Jagielka then converted his penalty. Anelka stepped up, with his trademark short, languid run-up. As in the 2008 Champions League final, he ran the risk of looking foolish if he didn’t convert. As in that final, he didn’t. Howard sprung to his right to beat the ball away.
Mikel Arteta stepped up to restore parity, and did so. Michael Essien made no mistake. Heitinga was next, and the burly, surly Dutchman snuck his effort past the imposing figure of Cech. Heitinga did not go straight back to the Everton huddle. Instead, he made his way to the away fans, in front of whom the shootout was taking place, and beckoned for them to make some noise. In doing so, he ensured he was still in the Chelsea penalty area as Ashley Cole made his way towards the spot. Heitinga made the walk back, and on the way he bumped into Cole. It was a mere brush of shoulders, but the Chelsea left back was clearly perturbed. Cole stepped up. Howard guessed wrong. But it didn’t matter, as the deafening bellows of the travelling fans greeted an effort which had sailed high and wide.
And so it was all down to the captain, Phil Neville. In possibly his best Everton contribution that did not involve cleaning out a prancing opposition winger, Neville fired his penalty into the top left hand corner. Even if Cech had guessed right, he would never have reached it. Against all the odds, Everton were through.
Then Neville ruined it with that celebration. You’re not David Beckham and that wasn’t Old Trafford in 2001, Phil.
The victory sparked a renaissance for Everton, who won ten of their final 12 league games to climb to seventh. Beckford’s remarkable solo goal on the final day sealed a 1-0 defeat of runners-up Chelsea, who promptly sacked Ancelotti.
Oh, and that FA Cup run, prolonged by the Stamford Bridge drama, rescued from the brink by that Leighton Baines wizardry? Everton fell at the next hurdle, losing 1-0 in an insipid display at Goodison against Championship side Reading.
Obviously. It’s Everton, after all.