Gerard Deulofeu steered Everton into the Capital One Cup semi-finals with a 2-0 win at Middlesbrough last night.
The Spain international fired the Premier League side into a 20th-minute lead at the Riverside with a superb solo effort, and then set up Romelu Lukaku to seal the victory eight minutes later with another delicious piece of skill.
He plays with his spirit, with his character and he’s really good.
Deulofeu’s match-winning display did not come as a bolt from the blue to Boro boss Aitor Karanka, who worked with him during his time in the Spanish youth set-up.
Karanka said: “I have known Gerard since he was 13-14 years old, and he plays in the same way that he played when he was 13-14. He plays with his spirit, with his character and he’s really good.
“When it’s his day, it’s difficult to stop him.
“We knew and even knowing before the game and showing the players images of him, he can surprise you.
“For that reason, he is at Everton playing in one of the top Premier League teams.
“Evereton were better than us because they are an amazing team with an amazing manager.
“We knew that before the game and after the game, I can just say ‘congratulations’ and how pleased and how proud I am of my players because they played really well.
“Everton had to play 100 per cent to beat us and we had a few chances to score a goal, so for that reason, I am really pleased with the performance of my players.”
Roberto Martinez’s men can now put up their feet briefly ahead of Monday night’s Barclays Premier League clash with Crystal Palace, while Boro must dust themselves down for a tricky trip to Ipswich on Friday evening.
The hosts went into the game having win six of their last seven games in all competitions, but knowing they would have to play to their maximum if they were to extend that against very good Premier League opposition.
Everton were unbeaten in five and in no mood to surrender that record, or even to be extended the way neighbours Liverpool were by the Teessiders last season with the Reds finally edging home 14-13 in a dramatic penalty shoot-out.
From the off, they kept the ball moving, working to drag Boro out of position and create the gaps from which the likes of Lukaku and Deulofeu could wreak havoc.
The Sky Bet Championship promotion hopefuls might have taken the lead with goalkeeper Joel Robles turning away Stewart Downing’s 17th-minute free-kick before being bundled into the net along with the ball to the sound of the referee’s whistle from the resulting corner.
But the tie was effectively settled inside eight minutes as top-flight class was made to tell.
Boro simply could not get anywhere near Deulofeu as he set off from the centre circle and skipped past every approaching red shirt with the minimum of fuss before steering a right-foot shot past goalkeeper Tomas Mejias and into the bottom corner.
The Spaniard turned provider eight minutes later, accepting Ross Barkley’s raking pass and bamboozling emergency left-back Fernando Amorebieta before delivering the perfect cross for Lukaku to glance a header wide of Mejias and in off the post.
Cristhian Stuani forced Robles into a diving save with 10 minutes of the half remaining and Kike saw a delicately chipped effort drop just wide with the keeper beaten, but Everton left the pitch at the break knowing they had one foot in the last four.
Robles had to tip away Downing’s stinging 59th-minute drive after Stuani’s enterprising run, and Boro saw appeals for a 64th-minute penalty for handball waved away after Emilio Nsue’s ball into the box hit Brendan Galloway.
Stuani headed just over from Nsue’s inviting cross when he really should have scored with 20 minutes remaining, but there was simply no way back for Boro.
Middlesbrough: Mejias, Nsue, Ayala, Gibson (Friend 83), Amorebieta, Clayton (Adomah 73), Leadbitter, Stuani, Downing, de Pena (Forshaw 46), Kike. Subs not used: Agazzi, Stephens, Zuculini, Nugent.
Everton: Joel, Coleman, Stones, Funes Mori, Galloway (Baines 73), Osman, Barry, Cleverley, Barkley, Deulofeu (Mirallas 81), Lukaku (Naismith 86). Subs not used: Howard, Gibson, Kone, Lennon.
Att: 31,628 Referee: Roger East