Everton 1 Manchester City 1 Match Report
By: John Burfield
Goodison Park; the ground that time forgot. Built in the late 15th century when the average British male was 4ft 9’, with the seats bolted onto wooden terraces, sufficient leg room for double amputees only, pillars to restrict your view, and best of all if you happen to be sat at the back of the lower tier of the Bullens Road Stand, the angle of the overhang from the upper tier is such that you can’t see the far side of the pitch. We got the occasional glimpse of Jesus Navas’ feet every now and then, but his head was well and truly cut off – as if you’d let your gran take photos at a wedding after one sherry too many.
To add to the sense of time warp then, on arriving at the ground a police announcement informed the City fans that a hoarding of some sort on said stand had come loose in the howling wind and kick off might be delayed. In the end repairs were evidently effected just in time for the 3pm start, but it was clear that the weather was going to impact on events on the field to some degree nonetheless.
In the first half, City, attacking the Gwladys Street End, played into the face of a gusting North Westerly and for the 8th game in a row without a recognised forward on the pitch. Aguero had made the bench, but although Dzeko had been declared fit by the manager in the Friday pre-match press conference, there was no sign of him in the match day squad, and no sign either of ‘Jack of all trades’, James Milner, reported to be nursing a niggle, which meant that attacking midfielder Stevan Jovetic was again pressed into service as a false number 9.
Courtesy of the unpredictability of the fixture list computer, Everton were the first real traditional ‘big’ team we’d faced since our striking injury crisis began, and although they’d been on a poor run of form, there were still enough decent players (Barklay, Naismith, Lukaku, Baines, Coleman, Barry) in their starting line up to leave the travelling Blues wondering if we would be able to impose our passing game – and particularly in the absence of the missing Ya Ya – to quite the same extent as we’d managed against West Brom and Crystal Palace, or whether Jovetic would cut an isolated and ineffective presence up front.
Well for the first 45 minutes certainly, those fears were completely assuaged as City mastered possession superbly in such difficult blustery conditions. The mercurial David Silva orchestrated attack after attack, Samir Nasri, as always, ran around with the ball glued to the end of his right foot, and up front the much criticised Stevan Jovetic had an excellent game, holding the ball up well and enabling his midfield colleagues to push up alongside him. Alas the only problem, and it’s been a perennial one this season, was that we couldn’t put the ball in the net. The three players mentioned above are all sublimely talented, but all equally cursed with the tendency to over elaborate, always wanting to incorporate one more back heel or reverse pass when the shot is virtually begging to be taken. As a result City ended up spurning a host of chances, the worst of the lot being Jesus Navas’ cross shot from 8 yards that he scuffed wide of the far post after being expertly played in by Silva, and instead of going in at the break 3 or 4 goals to the good, the game remained scoreless. Indeed had Joe Hart not saved superbly, Schmeichel ‘starfish’ style, from Lukaku right on half time (Coleman rattling the crossbar with the rebound), virtually Everton’s only meaningful attack to that point, we could even have found ourselves behind at the interval.
The 2nd half began then with another scare, as Lukaku again jinked past the isolated Mangala and, this time on his favoured left peg, rifled in a low cross shot that saw Hart produce another smart save low down to his left.
City then reassumed brief control for a 10 minute period, but the game was becoming increasingly stretched, and as Zabaleta and Clichy joined in our attacks, so Everton began to exploit the space down the channels behind them, often hitting the ball long toward the powerful Lukaku. The big Belgian youngster had been expertly dealt with by Mangala in the first half, as he’d laboured away centrally and ineffectively with his back to goal, but now pulling wide to run at the exposed City centre halves he was a different proposition.
In the 66th minute, the travelling fans got the moment they’d been waiting for, Sergio Aguero entering the field of play after a 6 week absence through injury, with Stevan Jovetic perhaps unfortunate to be the one to make way, although he’d been undeniably less effective after the break than before it.
In the 74th minute though, we finally got the breakthrough our overall superiority had merited. Zabaleta dispossessed Lukaku with a superb sliding tackle on the edge of our box and regaining his feet worked the ball wide to Navas, who accelerated away on the counter, before feeding Nasri, who cut it back to Silva waiting by the penalty spot. The Spaniard’s left footed shot deflected off a lunging defender up over the advancing keeper, with Fernandinho first to the hanging ball to nod it over the line from close range. Everton’s raging appeals variously for offside against the little Brazilian and for an innocuous ball to hand by Zabaleta as he executed his tackle at the start of the move, were both equally desperate.
The big question then was could we hang on for a deserved win. The answer regrettably was ‘no’. Referee Martin Atkinson had infuriated the City players and fans all afternoon by awarding Everton a string of free kicks for innocuous looking challenges, and yet another such soft decision went the home team’s way in the 78th minute. Perhaps Pablo Zabaleta should shoulder some of the blame for continually trying to get a leg in front of his opponents and thereby inviting dives and falls, when he really has no need to, but the general consensus was that Atkinson might as well have donned an Everton jersey and had done.
Inevitably Baines was going to get his delivery right eventually and so it proved, a flat fast ball whipped into the near post that any one of three Everton players could have glanced home, so leaden footed was the City defensive line’s response. Joe Hart copped for some criticism for rushing out and flapping away well short of Naismith, the scorer, but the City keeper’s rationale that the Everton player’s header would have gone in anyway was hard to counter. The plain fact is that with Kompany and Kolarov on the bench, Dzeko and Toure absent, and Jovetic withdrawn, the City team is very short on inches and habitually vulnerable to set pieces, and perhaps Hart over compensated.
Thereafter, as the rain lashed down and the temperature dropped even further, Everton were marginally the more threatening team, but the full time stats of City having mustered 18 shots to the home side’s 10, and having enjoyed 62% possession, confirmed that we were right to have regarded the 1-1 final score as 2 points dropped rather than the 1 gained.
Hart – 6. Two superb saves from Lukaku on the one hand, but a hapless flap for the Everton equaliser on the other.
Zabaleta – 6. Usual robust, all action, display, but when there’s a whistle happy buffoon like Atkinson in charge, he really does need to learn to adjust his game and stop diving in for the ball. The number of unnecessary free kicks he concedes in dangerous positions is becoming a real issue.
Clichy – 7. Continued his recent run of good form. Quietly efficient both offensively and defensively.
Dimichelis – 6. Solid, but toiled against Lukaku in the 2nd half.
Mangala – 6. Excellent 1st half, but allowed Lukaku to run the ball past him in dangerous areas two or three times in the 2nd. It should be remembered though that City play a high risk game at the back, with the full backs frequently pushing forward and precious little cover for the centre halves.
Fernando – 8. One of his best games for City so far. Had the overhyped Barklay in his pocket, and made any number of strong tackles and interceptions. Anchored the midfield well.
Fernandinho – 6. Scored the goal and improved after the break, but gave the ball away cheaply on countless occasions in the 1st half.
Silva – 8. At the heart of everything good that we did.
Nasri – 7. Enabled us to monopolise possession for much of the game, but there wasn’t as much meaningful end product as from his Spanish compatriot.
Navas – 6. A player who frustrates supporters on a regular basis. On the plus side he worked extremely hard, kept Baines pinned back, didn’t shirk any challenges and seldom gave away possession. However, as usual on the counterattack he suffered from Darius Vassell syndrome, turning back or cutting inside at the first sign of a defender, instead of pinning back his ears and flying at them, and as always the number of crosses he lashed straight into the ankles of the nearest defender was phenomenal.
Jovetic – 7. Did a good job in the 1st half, holding the ball up in tight situations to give the side a platform, far more effectively than in previous games, and there was one glorious nutmeg on Coleman (I think) to treasure as well. Faded after the break, but still unlucky to be hooked.
Aguero – 6. Looked understandably rusty, but great to see him back.
Lampard – 6. Did little of consequence in his brief cameo.
Kolarov – (not on field long enough)