Wright-Phillips leads Chelsea charge

Shaun Wright-Phillips scored a goal and forced an own-goal in injury time to give 10-man Chelsea a 2-1 win over Everton on Tuesday in the first leg of the English League Cup semifinals.

Wright-Phillips, who put Chelsea ahead 1-0 in the first half, duelled in front of the net for a high ball with Everton’s Joleon Lescott, who inadvertently knocked the ball into his own goal.

Ayegbeni Yakubu equalised for Everton in the 64th minute from a powerful close-range volley into the top of the net, capitalizing on John Obi Mikel’s expulsion in the 54th for a challenge on Phil Neville.

It was the first legitimate scoring chance for Everton, which rarely threatened Chelsea goalkeeper Henrique Hilario before Mikel was sent off.

Chelsea dominated the first half, using the quick midfield passing of captain Michael Ballack and the speed of Wright-Phillips and Ashley Cole to continually test a disciplined Everton defence.

Wright-Phillips gave Chelsea the lead in the 26th minute, taking a pass from Florent Malouda in the area and calmly curling in a shot inside the far post past Everton goalkeeper Tim Howard.

Chelsea had a chance to double their lead two minutes later on a counter-attack. Wright-Phillips passed to Joe Cole, who ran between two defenders but was fouled just outside the area.

Ballack’s resulting free kick curled just wide.

Everton, playing their first cup semifinal since the 1995 FA Cup, tried to counter but struggled to sustain pressure on Chelsea until they had the extra-man advantage.

James McFadden nearly gave Everton the lead in the 68th minute, driving past two defenders into the left side of the area, but his effort bounced off the far post.

Both sides used depleted squads with several players having departed for their national teams to prepare for the African Cup later this month. Chelsea were without Ivorians Didier Drogba and Salomon Kalou, while Everton were missing South Africa’s Steven Pienaar.

In Drogba’s absence, Claudio Pizarro played as Chelsea’s lone striker but was ineffective, repeatedly losing the ball when trying to penetrate Everton’s back line.

Pizzaro’s best chance came in the 58th minute when he took a through ball from Wright-Phillips, but his shot from the middle of the area was saved by a diving Howard.

The second leg is scheduled for January 23, while London rivals Arsenal and Tottenham meet in the other semifinal on Wednesday. Chelsea, the defending champions, are trying to win their third League Cup title in four years. — Sapa-AP

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