Given that Everton – beset by injuries – fielded a team without one recognised striker, it was not difficult to predict that one of these sides might find it difficult to score.
Yet after 91 minutes, at which point David Moyes would have congratulated his players for securing a draw against City's array of attacking talent, the goal that determined the outcome came from the visitors.
Tim Cahill's header from Leon Osman's stoppage-time corner not only intensified Mark Hughes's frustration with a City team still failing to live up to expectations, but gave Moyes a warm glow of satisfaction at seeing his players respond so willingly to defeat by Aston Villa last weekend. "If ever there were an occasion they would be judged on their character, it would be here after the Villa defeat and without a striker in the team," Moyes said. "In the circumstances, it was a fantastic performance." Hughes, who has survived speculation over his future once already this season, must be braced for more questions. Resigned at the end of normal time to seeing City's poor run stretch to one win in eight, he hardly expected to witness a fifth home defeat.
"It is hard to take because neither side did enough to deserve to win the game," Hughes said. "To be fair to Cahill, he had an excellent game but we just switched off and paid the price."
Hughes brushed aside the significance of the result. However, after talk of City using their next month as a springboard into European contention, should Newcastle win at Portsmouth today they will find themselves out of the bottom three only on goal difference.
Everton, meanwhile, can look again at the top six as well within their compass, although they need to find a striker. With Yakubu out for the season and poor Louis Saha laid low by another niggle, Victor Anichebe failing a late fitness test left Moyes with no natural front man.
In the circumstances, packing men behind the ball came naturally to Everton and the home side, even with Robinho recovered from an ankle injury, were largely a blunted instrument. "We needed more determination to get on the end of things," Hughes said, suggesting that a striker with physical presence will be on his January shopping list.
Most of the chances came in the first half, when both sides hit the woodwork – Everton from a Mikel Arteta free-kick and City from a late effort by Shaun Wright-Phillips.
As City ran out of ideas, the second half was less eventful. Until, that is, Cahill had the last word.
Referee: Mark Halsey
Man of the match: Arteta
Match rating: 7/10