EVERTON 2, MANCHESTER CITY 3
Manchester City are just two wins from the title after returning to the top of the league on goal difference with a 3-2 victory at Goodison Park after goals by Sergio Aguero and Edin Dzeko cancelled out a stunning Ross Barkley opener.
Romelu Lukaku reduced the deficit to 3-2 midway through the second half while Barkley could have levelled the scores late on but hit the side netting as Everton dominated the second half but City held their nerve, despite losing Aguero to injury after he scored City’s equaliser, to record a vital victory.
It was only City’s second win at Goodison Park in 16 visits and defeat ended Everton’s hopes of overtaking Arsenal to claim the 4th and final Champions League slot after their third defeat in four games.
Much of the talk pre-game was occupied with suggestions that Everton would willingly sacrifice a chance of a 4th place finish to ensure that local rivals Liverpool would not be able to claim a first Barclays Premier League title in 24 years.
After today’s performance, there can be no accusations of an easy ride for City at Goodison Park as Everton pushed their visitors all the way and had plenty of opportunities to hand the initiative back to Liverpool.
Ross Barkley’s stunning 11th minute opener for Everton was reminiscent of Wayne Rooney’s first goal for Everton against Arsenal many years ago. He was already on Roy Hodgson’s radar but must be hammering on the door for a place on the plane to Rio after his goal and overall performance today.
City manager Manuel Pellegrini had made only one change from their away win against Crystal Palace with Gael Clichy replacing Aleksandar Kolarov at left back but they knew they had their work cut out against Everton.
The visiting City fans held their breath as the emotional rollercoaster last ridden two years ago was warmed up. Sergio Aguero levelled the scores after 22 minutes with an assist by Yaya Toure but limped off with what looked like another muscle injury.
There may not be another ‘Aguerooooooo’ moment this season thanks to the Argentine striker’s injury but City still needed to win the game at hand.
James Milner’s cross provided the ammunition for Edin Dzeko just two minutes before the break with the Bosnian nodding City into the lead at a crucial moment.
Everton could have been level again shortly after the break when Barkley went on a mazy run, leaving a clutch of City players behind, and put the ball on a plate for Steven Naismith but Joe Hart got down to make the crucial save that kept City in the lead.
City extended their lead on the break moments later with a sucker punch for the home side as Samir Nasri’s low cross was converted by Dzeko to make it 3-1 after just 48 minutes.
With renewed purpose, Everton pushed to reduce the deficit and duly got a just reward for their hard work after Leighton Baines’ cross was finished by Romelu Lukaku who headed in off the post after 65 minutes.
It was backs to the wall for City after that as they had to cope without Toure who sustained an injury but they managed to hold on although Everton missed a late chance to equalise by substitute Gerard Deulofeu.
When all the dust settles for City they may have to cope with injuries to two of their best players for the last two games of the season at home to Aston Villa and West Ham.
Whether they will miss Sergio Aguero and Yaya Toure remains to be seen but the fate of this season’s title is still in Manchester City’s hands.
UPDATE: Sergio Aguero reassured City fans who were concerned for his fitness for the last two games of the league plus the World Cup. He said on Twitter:
“Thank you for your concern. I left just as a precaution. Fortunately I’m fine, happy for the goal, the win and keeping our dream alive.”
Along with the news that Yaya Toure was similarly withdrawn to protect him for the run-in the title hopefuls could see both players return for the home game against Aston Villa on Wednesday.