Mancini's men blow big chance to top the table at Christmas
Manchester City 1 Everton 2
Tuesday 21 December 2010
When Carlos Tevez undertook last night to withdraw his transfer request it should have been the preface to the best Christmas Manchester City have had in 81 years but as has too often been the case at this club for as long as anyone can remember, they then conspired to spoil it.
They gave away two goals in the first 19 minutes and spent the rest of the match frantically trying to retrieve the situation. But Roberto Mancini's side will not spend Christmas in first place in the English top-flight for the first time since 1929, instead they will spend the next six days nursing a familiar feeling of what might have been.
When they come to look back upon this day at the end of season it will be remembered above all as the day that Tevez decided to stay and thus defused what was potentially a corrosive situation with the club until the summer at least. Then having solved one problem another one immediately opened up under City's feet.
As for Tevez, this was not the performance that would seal his great reconciliation with the City fans. They greeted his name with a loud roar of approval and the joy had barely subsided when Tim Cahill nipped in at the near post after five minutes to head home Everton's first goal.
When Leighton Baines curled in Everton's second after 19 minutes, City's fans were entitled to wonder whether this was just a cruel joke. They had salvaged the future of their most effective attacking player only for their team's defence to crumble.
It will have been no consolation that City dominated this game from midway through the first half onwards, even more so when Victor Anichebe was sent off for a second yellow card with 30 minutes remaining. It just about summed up City's evening when Kolo Touré collected two bookings in injury-time at the end of the game and went the same way – they could probably have played until Christmas Day and not scored an equaliser.
But none of this should diminish a great Everton performance that had David Moyes punching the air at the whistle. The manager deserved this one. His team rode their luck at times – penalty appeals against them were waved away, Tim Howard made some fabulous saves – but ultimately they looked a lot more like the Everton of the second half of last season.
At the final whistle, Moyes's players went to the away end to applaud their own supporters. Moyes must hope that, at last, this will spark the kind of new year renaissance that his team went through last year.
They did it with 10 men as City's pressure threatened to become intolerable. Phil Jagielka went off with a thigh strain for the crucial last 10 minutes and Tony Hibbert went in as an emergency centre-half. But this was a performance that epitomised the best of Everton under Moyes: resilient but with enough quality to beat top-notch opposition.
Yet at times it was a wonder that Everton survived. Most notably Howard barged Mario Balotelli when the striker attempted to finish a rebound after his own shot had hit the post. It was not a great night for referee Peter Walton – he should have given that penalty – but it was always likely to require some good fortune.
There was nothing lucky about either of Everton's goals, the first of which was made by Seamus Coleman when the 22-year-old chased a lost cause on the right and crossed for Cahill who had been left unmarked by Vincent Kompany at the near post.
Moyes noted how Cahill's "energy levels" were back to what they had been last season – a pity then that he will lose him next month because of Fifa's decision to schedule the Asian Cup in the middle of the domestic season.
Baines's goal was further evidence that he is one of the season's stand-out performers and surely too good to be ignored any longer by Fabio Capello to be Ashley Cole's understudy. He started the move and got the ball back via Anichebe and Cahill to curve his shot around Joe Hart and into the far corner.
"We conceded the first goal far too easy," said Mancini. "We slipped with the first chance they had." That was putting it mildly. City had not even got going when they found themselves two goals down. After that David Silva and Yaya Touré were central to the best of City's attacking play but there were too few clear chances created.
It was noticeable that among the 10 outfield players whom City started with there were six pairs of gloves, four snoods and one pair of tights. In contrast, Everton's outfield players eschewed the seasonal accessories until the second half.
Mancini brought on Adam Johnson for James Milner at half-time and he did a better job of getting in behind Everton. Sylvain Distin and Jagielka were excellent – at least until the moment that Jagielka put the ball in his own net. Then Johnson and Silva opened up Everton and Jagielka got a touch on Yaya Touré's shot to put it in.
That was after Anichebe got himself sent off on the hour for two needless fouls in five minutes. The first was a little harsh – he left something on Hart when chasing down a pass back to the goalkeeper. Then he swept away the legs of Pablo Zabaleta.
That was not all from Anichebe. As he crossed the touchline he threw his gloves away and they landed far too near to Mancini for it not to be considered an impolite gesture.
The best chance for City among many was when Balotelli beat Howard but hit the post with his lob and seemed to be impeded when he went after the rebound. Everton's goalkeeper flung himself on Tevez's follow-up and so his team held on. As for Tevez himself, he took himself off as quick as possible although at least the home support will be seeing him again.
Manchester City (4-3-1-2): Hart; Zabaleta, Kompany, K Touré, Kolarov; Silva, Barry, Milner (A Johnson h-t); Y Touré; Balotelli (Jo 83), Tevez. Substitutes not used: Given (gk), Richards, Wright-Phillips, Boateng, Vieira.
Everton (4-4-1-1): Howard; Neville, Jagielka (Hibbert, 79), Distin, Baines; Coleman (Saha 75), Rodwell, Fellaini, Osman (Bilyaletdinov 74); Cahill; Anichebe. Substitutes not used: Mucha (gk), Beckford, Gueye, Yakubu.
Booked: Manchester City Kompany, Barry, K Touré. Everton Fellaini, Anichebe.
Sent off: Everton Anichebe (59); Manchester City K Touré (90).
Referee: P Walton (Northamptonshire)
Man of the match: Howard.
Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes
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