Everton 2-0 Manchester City: Ten-man Toffees deliver further blow to visitors` slim title hopes
London: Mancini’s men, who have now lost their last four games in the Toffees’ backyard, were thoroughly outplayed in the first-half and a stunning strike from stand-in captain Leon Osman ensured they headed into the break with a 1-0 deficit.
Steven Pienaar was sent off on the hour mark but the hosts held on – even doubling their advantage late on through Nikica Jelavic – as David Moyes’s side produced the perfect reaction to their FA Cup humiliation against Wigan last Saturday.
The home side headed into proceedings having made two changes from that 3-0 defeat, with skipper Phil Neville being replaced by Darron Gibson, while forward Victor Anichebe came in for Nikica Jelavic.
Mancini, meanwhile, had a long list of absentees including captain Vincent Kompany, Micah Richards, Sergio Aguero and Yaya Toure – ruled out on the day with a migraine. The Italian subsequently made four changes from his side’s 5-0 romp against Barnsley, re-installing Joe Hart, James Milner, Matija Nastasic and Javi Garcia.
Before the game, the City boss joked that he couldn’t remember any his previous defeats at Goodison Park. Everton were about to offer up a painful reminder.
The opening 10 minutes yielded 65% possession for the Toffees as key men Leighton Baines and Mouraoune Fellaini – whose evident enthusiasm saw him booked after just six minutes – imposed themselves on the action from the off.
And on 12 minutes, the hosts looked to have earned just reward for their early dominance as Kevin Mirallas hit the back of the net with a finely-struck volley. Controversially, though, the linesman raised the offside flag, despite replays definitively showing he was onside.
But on the half-hour mark, Osman gave Everton the lead in spectacular fashion – and there was nothing the linesman could do to stop this one. Receiving the ball 30 yards from goal, the stand-in skipper sent a stunning strike straight into the top-left corner with his first touch. Hart was rooted to the spot.
The visitors needed a response and Tevez and Dzeko – their biggest threats so far – fired just off target minutes later but the hosts were firmly in control going into the break.
And it was more of the same after half-time. That was until the hour mark, however, when Pienaar – who was booked in the first half – dived in with a rash challenge on Javi Garcia and referee Lee Probert showed no hesitation in sending the South African off.
The man advantage gave City all the space they needed – and they duly threatened on 66 minutes as Tevez and Milner fired in a shot each. Jan Mucha produced two top-quality saves, however, and proved equal to both.
Then, the visitors were given cause to feel aggrieved late on as Fellaini handled inside the penalty area but Probert gave a free kick just outside the box.
Kolarov could not convert the set piece and Jelavic compounded their misery by adding a second minutes later. If the title race was already tilted heavily in Manchester United’s favour, now it had surely become a foregone conclusion.