MANCHESTER CITY 3, EVERTON 1
Everton were never going to be a pushover at the end of a week when City had been mauled by Bayern Munich but both teams competed in a highly entertaining match with the home side ending Everton’s unbeaten record thanks to goals by Alvaro Negredo, Sergio Aguero and an own goal by Tim Howard after Romelu Lukaku had opened the scoring for Everton. It was a bittersweet victory, though, as City lost captain Vincent Kompany once again to injury in the first half.
Manuel Pellegrini made six changes to the side humbled 3-1 against Bayern Munich at the Etihad Stadium on Wednesday but under-fire Joe Hart kept his place despite an admission by Pellegrini that he would decide who would be in goal against Everton this morning. In came Pablo Zabaleta, Aleksander Kolarov, Joleon Lescott, James Milner, David Silva and Negredo. Out went Micah Richards, Gael Clichy, Matija Nastasic, Jesus Navas, Samir Nasri, and Edin Dzeko. By comparison, Everton were forced into one change from their last match when on-loan Gareth Barry was replaced by Steven Naismith.
Pellegrini was happy to put the Bayern nightmare behind them after a tough test today. He said: “We played very well. It wasn’t easy today against the only unbeaten team in the Premier League, moreso after what happened last Wednesday both mentally and physically. I was pleased with the character of the team.
“We scored three goals, we had four or five chances more and Everton only scored one goal – their first chance on goal.
He also urged City and England fans to back Hart through the difficult times:
“The responsibility for [opposition] goals is with the whole team.
“It wasn’t a simple decision to keep Hart. I think that Joe needs the trust of all of us – of me, the other players, and the fans.
“He has to play two more games with England and Joe is the same as the rest of the team.
“I talked with Joe after the Bayern match. He feels he didn’t do well and he felt guilty but it’s important that today he was strong in character.
Pellegrini had mostly positive news for City’s European players as they headed into the international window:
“Vincent Kompany has a muscular injury, the doctor will see him tomorrow.
“Stevan Jovetic will be fit for Montenegro – he had some little problems before the Bayern game but trained normally yesterday.
“David Silva is a very important player. I wasn’t sure he could play the 90 minutes, but he did very well.”
Much had already been said about Hart’s recent form and he was called into action immediately when in-form Lukaku was bearing down on goal but was challenged by Lescott giving the England ‘keeper a chance to dive onto the ball. It was the first touch of many during the game for Hart as he sought to rebuild his damaged confidence.
City were already much improved from midweek and were competing for the ball throughout the first half. Kolarov hit a free kick into the side netting as City dominated the early stages but couldn’t test Tim Howard in the Everton goal.
Everton were good on the break, however, and City were caught napping in the 16th minute when Phil Jagielka’s clearance found Lukaku deep in the City half. The Belgian neatly sidestepped his marker, Lescott, and struck the opener for Everton with a ball that looped in off Hart’s gloves.
City levelled matters barely a minute later. Negredo beat the Everton offside trap after Yaya Toure and Silva cut through the visitors’ defence, exchanged passes, and Toure slipped the ball to the Spanish striker to level the scores, with his shot similarly looping in off Howard’s gloves.
Negredo’s strike partner, Sergio Aguero, had survived the Bayern cull but looked short of his usual sharpness for much of the afternoon. He should have put City into the lead in the 26th minute when a sublime free kick routine saw Fernandinho slide the ball to Silva whose through ball put the Argentine into clear space with just Howard to beat but the final ball slid just wide of the far post.
Aguero inexplicably stumbled when presented with a similar opportunity after Negredo and Silva combined on the right to serve up a free ball on a plate for him before he finally got on the scoresheet just before half time.
It was inevitably another superb pass by Silva, badly missed for most of the Bayern game, which put Aguero in just before half time. He timed his run past Sylvain Distin perfectly and put City into the lead with his goal from an acute angle on the right with the former City captain desperately trying to catch up with him.
The Argentine could have had his second in added time after Toure put him through but Phil Jagielka made the interception before he could line up his chance.
Aguero’s penalty in the 69th minute after Zabaleta had been tripped in the Everton area by Seamus Coleman finally put clear air between City and their feisty rivals although Howard was desperately unlucky to see the ball bounce off him and into the net after coming off the post.
Everton refused to give in and created chances even before Kompany limped off in the 34th minute. Kolarov also had to be withdrawn in the second half after a nasty cut suffered when Naismith pushed him into Kompany’s replacement Matija Nastasic. Nastasic could claim to have had a lucky escape with a penalty call by Lukaku in the first half.
Kevin Mirallas almost profited when Toure lost the ball close to his own area, forcing Hart into an acrobatic save despite being flagged offside in the buildup.
Lukaku found himself on the left edge of the City box with Hart in front of him shortly after the break and almost robbed him with an open goal behind him.
Mirallas could have scored shortly afterwards when Ross Barkley picked him out with a defence splitting pass which Hart was quick enough to intercept after coming off his line. Naismith had a shot blocked in the second half and substitute Arouna Kone’s injury time shot was well saved by Hart.
Everton manager Roberto Martinez might have complained about the excessive number of bookings dished out by Jon Moss and about the penalty awarded to City for a foul on Zabaleta but not awarded in the first half to Lukaku following a perceived push by Nastasic, but he couldn’t complain about the result as City ran out deserved winners.