Just when things appeared to be going smoothly for Roberto Mancini, up comes the fixture from hell. Everton, chasing shadows and thoroughly outclassed in the first half, remembered their lines in the second and turned this game on its head in combative style.
David Moyes's team trailed to Yaya Touré's apparently effortless first-half strike and City, oozing class and attacking menace, could and should have been out of sight. Everton, though, were fired up by the introduction of Tim Cahill, City's bête noire, shortly after the hour mark and found a level of intensity that had brought them three successive victories against Mancini's side.
They tore into their extravagantly gifted opponents after the interval, prevailing thanks to towering headers by Sylvain Distin and Leon Osman. The watching Duncan Ferguson looked on admiringly.
There is history between these two sides sparked by Joleon Lescott's acrimonious departure to Eastlands two summers ago and an occasionally ill-tempered clash ended with a few skirmishes at the finish, though none involving Lescott who was facing his old team for the first time as a City player.
Seamus Coleman, a second-half substitute, doesn't take much persuading and squared up to Aleksander Kolarov. Just as that was cooling down, Mancini and Phil Neville were at each other, City assistant Brian Kidd keeping them apart. "It was nothing," said Mancini. But this was not the start City wanted to the biggest week of their season and they were clearly rattled. Tottenham visit Eastlands on Tuesday and Stoke await them in the FA Cup final on Saturday. Stoke manager Tony Pulis will have recognised something in Everton's battling display and doubtless left Goodison in good heart.
"It is incredible we lost that game," said Mancini. "We had four or five chances to kill it off but this is football. If you lose concentration it is difficult. But we did not deserve to lose." City's progress had indeed looked assured up until the interval. David Silva was weaving his magic and went close to scoring when he expertly controlled a high ball from Vincent Kompany, turned outside Tony Hibbert and drilled the ball across Tim Howard's goal.
Moyes had filled his midfield but it was having little effect and soon James Milner played in Silva, whose exquisite pull-back fell kindly for Patrick Vieira but the Frenchman missed horribly.
The gulf in class between the sides was as wide as the financial chasm and the breakthrough duly arrived after 28 minutes, Silva slipping the ball to Touré who lifted it over the advancing Howard. It could have been worse two minutes before the break but the commanding Phil Jagielka touched the ball away from Kolarov's toes when he looked certain to score.
Touré was denied by Howard shortly after the break but the transformation after that was astonishing. Moyes brought on Jermaine Beckford for Hibbert and suddenly Everton went after City. Nigel de Jong spared Mancini's men with a last-ditch tackle as Leighton Baines's free-kick fell to Jack Rodwell and, soon after, Beckford shot when there were better options. The tide had turned, however.
Everton are a far better side when the tempo is lifted and Cahill's introduction for Rodwell, whose lunge at De Jong had just caused a skirmish, ensured that. The Australian has only recently returned from injury but he was tigerish in pursuit of the ball and his team-mates responded by producing an equaliser a minute later. Mikel Arteta's free-kick from the right was lofted into the City area and Distin, a defender who lost his way with the Manchester club, rose above Kompany to head powerfully past Joe Hart.
Goodison found its voice and Osman brought the house down seven minutes later when he, too, rose above Kompany to beat Hart with another header, taking a blow to the head in the process. "It reminded me of Andy Gray," said a delighted Moyes. Or even Ferguson. "The team City had probably could have played in the NBA. It was like the New York Knicks and was hard to play against but we found a way." As is their way.
Referee: Phil Dowd
Man of the match: Silva
Match rating: 8/10