Manchester City 2 Everton 1: Samaras wakes Pearce's men from slumber

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The Independent Football

Until the interval, this match was played in snooze mode, then the City manager Stuart Pearce switched things round, bringing on the substitute Georgios Samaras, and how things changed.

"We looked weary. We looked tired," Pearce admitted, "but we were a totally different side in the second half. The pleasing thing is that this team responds, it has character." With a surprisingly good playing surface in view of recent weather, the crowd was treated to a cultured passing game at first. The pace of DeMarcus Beasley and Andy Johnson seemed likely to be the telltale factors. Johnson was probably too honest for his own good when Richard Dunne's crude kick caught him in the back in the goal area, but the same Dunne slide-tackled James Beattie with impeccable timing right in front of goal minutes later.

Micah Richards has been pushed forward in Stuart Pearce's formations of late, but had only one decent run at goal in the first half and his finishing lacked control.

The nearest either side came to scoring in the first 45 minutes was Bernardo Corradi's shot just two metres from the goalline which caught Joleon Lescott's forearm before bouncing to safety.

Beware of Greeks bearing gifts, Beasley could have been forgiven for thinking in the 49th minute, for Samaras' pass to him was ill-measured and it looked like a promising position was lost. But Beasley tracked it manfully and crossed the ball with precision for Samaras to receive the pay-off on his own modest investment by netting crisply.

Suddenly City were renewed and a blockbuster of a drive from Richards was followed up by a Samaras daisy-cutter-with-attitude. Simon Davies missed a fine opportunity when given space on the edge of the box and then defended sloppily to let in Samaras but Tim Howard's watchfulness foiled the attack.

When Ousmane Dabo hoofed the ball forward in search of Darius Vassell, it was more in hope than expectation, but the ex-England man got on the end of it and Tim Howard's intervention was on the man not the ball. It was a sticky moment for the Toffees, but moderation prevailed as Uriah Rennie dealt him a caution only. Samaras' penalty was efficiently dispatched and City had the luxury of a two-goal lead.

"He's a 21-year-old learning the game in the toughest league in the world," his manager said. "He can be a handful on a given day and he can trip over the ball on any given day." City's lead was not to be a luxury to savour, with Gary Neville stepping up his game. First he sent through Victor Anichebe, only for the Nigerian to be foiled by Nicky Weaver's splendid save; then a superbly squared ball which Leon Osman hammered into City's net from 10 metres out made for 10 nail-biting final minutes.

Goals: Samaras (50) 1-0; Samaras (pen 72) 2-0; Osman (84) 2-1.

Manchester City (4-4-2): Weaver; Onuoha, Dunne, Distin, Trabelsi (Miller, 85); Richards, Dabo, Beasley, Jordan; Vassell, Corradi (Samaras, h-t). Substitutes not used: Isaksson (gk), Dickov, Samaras, Mills.

Everton (4-4-2): Howard; Neville, Yobo, Lescott, Valente (Naysmith, h-t); Arteta, Carsley, Osman, Davies (McFadden, 65); Beattie (Anichebe, 65), Johnson. Substitutes not used: Wright (gk), Naysmith, Weir.

Referee: U Rennie (South Yorkshire).

Booked: Manchester City Miller, Trabelsi; Everton Arteta, Howard, Johnson.

Attendance: 39,836.

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