Mills' wonder goal inspires City as Moyes remains rock bottom

Manchester City 2

Everton 0
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The Independent Football

Others you don't see coming, like the magnificent defining moment of this previously turgid game.

When Stuart Pearce sent for a fit-again former England international as a goal-scoring remedy for City's recent slump, he was thinking more of Andy Cole than Danny Mills.

But it was the experienced full-back, recalled in place of the new England under-21 recruit Neddum Onuoha following a virus, who wondrously ended 72 minutes of tedium.

With Everton belatedly stretched by opponents they beat home and away last season in what must already seem a previous life, Mills received a short pass from the substitute Lee Croft, took a few paces and crashed home right-footed from close on 30 yards.

Not only was it awesome power that did for Nigel Martyn, there was even a bit of "draw" to underpin Mills' first goal since Leeds United faced Bolton Wanderers in December 2002.

"I was shouting 'get back, get back', then he goes and does something like that,'' said Pearce. "He's come up with a most-unlike Danny Mills shot.''

At a time when Everton would kill for the scruffiest of entries on the scoresheet, they needed finishing of that surprise element against them like a party animal needs an 11.15am kick-off.

Up with the lark they may have been, but they remain very much down with the strugglers and will be facing a fight to preserve their 52-season top-flight status if they don't wake up soon from their stupor.

Their manager David Moyes has reverted to 4-4-2 from the widely damned 4-5-1 that served him so well last season. When you have been knocked out of two European competitions, hit the bottom of the table and scored only one league goal by the start of October, there is a certain argument for going back to basics.

The fact that James Beattie and Duncan Ferguson were sent on in turn, though, for Marcus Bent and James McFadden underlined this as another day of lean pickings. Although David James' kicking was atrocious and Tim Cahill was rightly given offside before netting following a Nuno Valente free-kick, Everton took until the final 15 minutes to seriously threaten.

Then Kevin Kilbane's shot was beaten out by the diving keeper and Sylvain Distin cleared near the line in the 89th minute from his rival captain, David Weir, with Beattie unable to make the decisive contact.

The sight of a City fan in pyjamas provided light relief amid the culture shock of witnessing the Premiership's earliest ever kick-off but, when it came to alarm, the morning call had nothing on the woeful lack of first-half quality.

In front of a bleary-eyed crowd which was actually 300 up on City's average for the season, the home side were thankfully much improved in the second half - a point reinforced in injury time when Darius Vassell slid the ball home following good work by Sun Jihai and Joey Barton.

Everton's discomfort will intensify if the FA act over an unspotted kick-out at Croft by Neville, who has already been sent off this season. The former Manchester United utility man was resilient in a midfield in which 19-year-old Stephen Ireland was impressive in his first Premiership start. But Neville might have left Moyes in even deeper strife.

"It's too early to talk about relegation battles, but we want to get away from the position we're in as soon as we can," the manager said. "There is still talent here and we need that to show very quickly.''

Goals: Mills (72) 1-0; Vassell (90) 2-0.

Manchester City (4-4-2): James; Mills, Dunne, Distin, Jordan; Sibierski, Ireland, Barton, Musampa (Croft, 62); Cole (Jihai, 90), Vassell. Substitutes not used: DeVlieger (gk), Sommeil, Onuoha.

Everton (4-4-2): Martyn; Ferrari, Yobo, Weir, Valente; Osman (Davies, 75), Neville, Cahill, Kilbane; Bent (Beattie, 63), McFadden (Ferguson, 70). Substitutes not used: Wright (gk), Kroldrup.

Referee: M Halsey (Lancashire).

Booking: Manchester City Barton.

Man of the match: Ireland.

Attendance: 42,681.