Everton dig in to claw way out of danger zone

Everton 0 Manchester City 0
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The Independent Football

Everton clawed their way out of the relegation zone despite a disjointed performance against a similarly out-of-sorts Manchester City at Goodison Park.

Thomas Gravesen should have won the game for Everton with a late shot against a post but that would have been hard on Manchester City who were the better side for long spells. They created more chances and passed the ball better but they are lacking the flair that they showed earlier in the season and suffered a blow when goalkeeper David Seaman was substituted after a recurrence of his hamstring injury.

Not surprisingly for two teams struggling for form, there was plenty of uncertainty on show. Fowler, on the receiving end of abuse from the Everton fans, showed some skill after just four minutes when he took down a Joey Barton long ball and volleyed over the crossbar from 20 yards, all in one flowing movement.

City's habit of giving away dangerous free-kicks did not help them and they almost paid the price when a set piece from Gary Naysmith swerved through a packed penalty area, missed everyone and drifted wide. Everton were not convincing around the penalty box as City started to find the space to operate in.

They sprang into life when Steve McManaman's clever control kept the ball in on the by-line and his pass across the box found ex-Everton man Richard Dunne, who crashed a shot from 18 yards fractionally over.

Then City produced their best chances of the first half when Nicolas Anelka beat Tony Hibbert and crossed for Trevor Sinclair to send a diving header wide on 36 minutes before the England winger fed Fowler in space, but he mis-hit his shot wide.

Another City break saw Anelka cross from the right, Fowler step over the ball and Sinclair produce a shot that Nigel Martyn saved. Then Sinclair again headed wide from a Shaun Wright-Phillips cross.

Everton produced a dramatic change of system and personnel at half-time. They took off Wayne Rooney and Hibbert, and switched to a back five by sending on Kevin Kilbane on the left and James McFadden in front of him Lee Carsley moved to right-back.

The Everton manager, Moyes, would not confirm how Rooney reacted to his early withdrawal, saying: "What goes on in the dressing room is between me and the team, not for anyone else.

"I made a tactical change by bringing Wayne off to try to change the flow of the game in the second half. We had to change things."

Carsley blazed over from an acute angle within a minute of the restart, before Fowler hit an instinctive volley from Sun Jihai's cross that flashed just over. But then City lost Seaman on 52 minutes and young Kevin Ellegaard took over in goal. Everton introduced striker Kevin Campbell for Francis Jeffers, and his first action was to clatter into Ellegaard in the air, leaving the Denmark Under-21 international winded.

Ellegaard saved at Tomasz Radzinski's feet before David Unsworth looked to pull back Wright-Phillips in the box at the other end but the referee Jeff Winter gave the free-kick right on the line. Everton, from deep defence, broke on 84 minutes and Radzinski set up Gravesen. The Dane, charging into an empty box, saw his shot hit the post.

Barton was booked in injury time for dissent, and the game ended as a battle of two sides launching long balls from end to end.

Everton (4-4-2): Martyn 5, Hibbert 4 (Kilbane 45), Stubbs 5, Unsworth 4, Naysmith 5, Carsley 5, Li Tie 4, Gravesen 5, Jeffers 5 (Campbell 64, 5), Rooney 4 (McFadden 45, 5), Radzinski. Substitutes not used: Simonsen, Linderoth.

Manchester City (4-4-2): Seaman 5 (Stuhr-Ellegaard 52, 5), Jihai 5, Sommeil 5, Dunne 6, Distin 5, Wright-Phillips 5 (Wanchope 77), McManaman 6, Barton 5, Sinclair 6, Fowler 6, Anelka 6. Substitutes not used: Reyna, Sibierski, Berkovic.

Referee: J Winter (Cleveland) 5.

Bookings: Everton: Naysmith. Man City: Barton.

Man of the match: R Fowler.

Attendance: 37,871.