Nerves are tightening in the Premiership’s capital city. After Chelsea it was Manchester City’s turn to make the evening as comfortable as possible before leaders Manchester United, who just happen to be the next team in the house of the champions, took the field at Reading.
The hallmark of City’s championship year was the manner in which they turned dog day afternoon’s like this into reasons to be cheerful. Here they ran into an implacable blue wall they rarely looked like scaling. It might have been worse in the last 15 minutes when Everton and not City reached for the accelerator.
A fine save by Joe Hart from Nikica Jelavic as the clock ran down stretched City’s unbeaten run to 21 games. Perhaps thanks are due to the City catering staff, who responded quickly at half-time to a request from the changing room for two hot water bottles to warm the hands of England’s No 1. The point those fingers earned took City level with the neighbours at the top of the league, but the days are long gone when a draw embellished a weekend.
David Moyes, buttoned against the biting cold in grey cardigan, was happy with the result but not the penalty that gifted City the equaliser minutes before half-time. His opposite number, Roberto Mancini, predictably disagreed. Funny how football polarises according to the colour of the scarf around the neck.
Asking a manager to account for outcomes in the immediacy of disappointment is often both fruitless yet revealing. It is not what they say but how they deliver it. The points surrendered against Everton took the tally of those lost at home this season beyond the stats for the whole of last year’s campaign. That and the looming visit of Sir Alex Ferguson was enough to ruin Mancini’s mood.
“We have played three games in six days. We have players injured. You cannot win all your home games,” Mancini said.
“We played well against Chelsea and didn’t win. We played well in the second half against Wigan. We are missing goals from our strikers at the moment. But you can easily lose games like this.”
Mancini must pick the bones of another failed Champions League campaign before he plots a route past United. City conclude the group programme at Dortmund on Tuesday confronting the uncomfortable truth that, despite the towering gains made at home, self-esteem in Europe has not kept pace with domestic swagger. That is partly down to bad luck and seeding. There is no shame in losing narrowly to Borussia Dortmund and Real Madrid. It is the mental ground conceded beforehand that Mancini needs to address. Maybe that is what he means when he points to the length of time it took Chelsea to lift the Champions League despite the vast amount spent.
City were second best in the head in the opening 20 minutes against Madrid at home. There was none of that deference against Everton. There was very little rhythm either. As Mancini claimed, that can happen. The problem Mancini is seeking to solve in Europe is the same that once held back Moyes at Everton. The reliance on the long ball is thankfully a thing of the past.
Channelling the ball through the quick feet of Steven Pienaar and Leon Osman has become a profitable tactic.
The mobility of Marouane Fellaini and Jelavic up front adds to the difficulty for defenders. Everton were the last team to defeat City at the Etihad and they came close again here. The goal for Moyes is to claim the fourth spot that would take Everton into the Champions League. He has earned the right to operate at that level.
His cardie deserves a greater audience, too.