MANCHESTER CITY 2, EVERTON 0
Manchester City returned to the top of the Barclays Premier League, however briefly, after a deserved win against Everton following late goals from substitutes Mario Balotelli and James Milner.
Roberto Mancini’s emotions were ones of relieve and delight as the changes he made helped break through a resolute Toffees defence.
The City manager said: “I am delighted because I think we played a fantastic game against a very strong team as Everton defended for the whole game.
” It was not easy to find a way through, but we pushed them for 90 minutes and in the end we deserved to win the game.”
Mancini explained why he used Balotelli ahead of Carlos Tevez, a tactical masterstroke which finally broke the Everton resistance.
He said: “I needed a player who could play wide to open their defence up. Mario didn’t play for four games but he worked well, didn’t say anything, and waited for his moment and scored an important goal. He can continue to improve.
“I am also happy for James (Milner). He’s not 100-per-cent but he played strongly and scored an important goal.”
Everton have become something of a bogey team for City. They have beaten them in seven out of their last eight meetings, and had won at the Etihad Stadium for each of the four previous seasons.
With a reputation for a robust approach and a team full of hard-working and effective players such as Tim Cahill, the bane of City in recent encounters, this game was an important milestone in City’s bid to win the league.
City named an unchanged side from the team that drew with Fulham last Sunday while Everton recalled Phil Neville in place of Diniyar Bilyaletdinov.
It took minutes for City to get into their stride as Edin Dzeko couldn’t believe his luck after a poorly directed back header from Phil Jagielka fell to him, but he was let down by a poor touch. It was the first clear cut chance but not the last for City.
Everton seemed content to frustrate City with a defensive game as they set out to neutralise their best players.
Samir Nasri and David Silva were making inroads down their respective flanks as Everton faded under the pressure and saw precious little of the ball. Their frustrations grew as Jack Rodwell, who had been detailed to man mark Silva, was booked for scything down the Spaniard as the mercurial City midfielder was a key player.
It seemed as though Silva was being double-teamed by Everton as when Rodwell wasn’t shadowing him then captain Phil Neville was. The former United player got plenty of abuse from the home fans when he was booked for tripping Silva minutes later.
City tightened their grip with a succession of chances as the first half drew to a close. Dzeko’s shot on the turn flew over the bar, Sergio Aguero had a fantastic effort tipped away from the goal by keeper Tim Howard, and Nasri combined with Micah Richards to create another opening.
Everton were more positive after the restart as Leon Osman and Cahill rattled the City defence before the home side re-asserted themselves.
Mancini changed the game as it entered the last half hour by introducing Balotelli, a player never far from controversy.
Everton suffered an injury blow when Cahill was hurt tackling Vincent Kompany, earning a booking for his troubles and also forced to limp off as he was replaced by Louis Saha.
With Balotelli’s added pace and width, City began to stretch Everton and City profited after 68 minutes when Aguero danced along the edge of the 18 yard box and backheeled the ball to the Italian whose first time effort took a deflection off the unfortunate Jagielka and eluded Howard’s dive low to his left.
The usually tactiturn striker was overjoyed as he ran to Mancini, his manager and fatherfigure, as the pair embraced.
The floodgates threatened to open as Balotelli laid on a chance for Silva whose first shot was blocked by Jagielka before he struck the post with the rebound and Balotelli shot wide after latching onto a poor clearance.
With the chains finally loosening on Silva as Everton had to gamble to get something from the game, the Spaniard laid on a fine chance for Balotelli which the Italian spurned. Silva also found the net courtesy of a through ball from Balotelli only for the linesman to chalk it off for offside.
Silva fittingly had a hand in the goal that finally finished off Everton one minute from full time he found himself in space and threaded the ball between three Everton defenders giving Milner, who had only just replaced Aguero, the perfect angle from which to make it 2-0 as he raced through from midfield.