EVERTON 1, MAN CITY 1
Manchester City stretched their unbeaten run to 14 matches, but lost ground in the race for the Barclays Premier League title.
Chelsea capitalised on the slip by City as they moved two points clear of the table.
City, who began the day joint top, had looked set to win after taking the lead through a rare goal from Brazilian Fernandinho only for Everton to equalise through Steven Naismith following a blunder by keeper Joe Hart.
And not even the introduction of Sergio Aguero, returning after a seven match absence, could inspire to victory as he lacked his usual sharpness in front of goal.
It was a disappointing result for City bearing in mind Everton had lost their four previous league matches to get sucked into the battle against relegation.
City manager Manuel Pellegrini was left to reflect on what might have been as he rued his side’s lack of firepower.
He said: “I think we played well, especially in the first half when we created too many chances, but didn’t finish well.
“Everton are always a difficult side and last year’s win here was our first in five attempts.
“May be we would have been happy with a draw before game. May be it was a good draw after the second half, but not after the first half.”
It was all change as City made seven switches to the side which kicked off against Sheffield Wednesday in the third round of the FA Cup.
There were recalls for Hart, Pablo Zabaleta, Gael Clichy, Martin Demichelis, Samir Nasri, David Silva and Fernandinho while, perhaps more significantly, Aguero and Vincent Kompany were on the bench as they returned following lengthy injury lay offs.
The most notable of the absentees was Yaya Toure who was away at the African Cup of Nations while Frank Lampard was on the bench and James Milner a complete absentee from the matchday 18 due to a slight injury.
City would have been comfortably ahead by half time had they displayed a cutting edge.
Stevan Jovetic had four chances, all of which flew either wide or over the goal while Jesus Navas rolled a shot past the upright and Silva also had a couple of decent openings.
Yet at the end of the half, Everton almost stole ahead when Romelu Lukaku was denied by a block by Hart and Seamus Coleman, following up, hit the crossbar with a scorching drive.
And Hart pulled off another good stop to keep out another Lukaku effort early in the second half while Everton also had a penalty appeal turned down following a clumsy challenge by Eliaquim Mangala on Phil Jagielka.
City, desperately needing to make a breakthrough, brought on Aguero for Jovetic midway through the second half.
Jagielka had the ball in the net with 20 minutes left, but Everton’s joy was immediately cut short by an assistant’s flag for a foul by Steven Naismith on Hart following a free kick by Leighton Baines.
City finally took the lead in the 74th minute through a rare goal from Fernandinho. Silva’s initial shot was blocked and looped into the air for the Brazilian to head home from inside the six-yard box, despite the best efforts of Seamus Coleman on the line to keep it out.
Everton quickly hit back and were back on level terms within four minutes when Naismith beat Hart to a Baines free kick to nod the ball past the stranded keeper.
And in the latter stages, neither side looked like conjuring a winner as each had to settle for a point with Everton clearly the happier side.