So the expectation that David Moyes would play Lucas Neill, just transferred this week to Galatasasry... as Hibbert is having a groin operation and Yobo pulls a hamstring at the Afcon — proved false. Sylvain Distin was back from injury and straight into the back four; Bilyaletdinov returned in place of Osman (also injured with a hamstring problem) while Landon Donovan got his Goodison debut. No place for forgotten man Jô... No Joleon Lescott for City either; he's out injured.
Cahill was straight in on Garrido, leading with his elbow while Neville was keen to hoof it from the start. City showed more early drive but Petrov's shot was laughable as Santa Cruz went down in a heap inside 5 mins and was replaced by Robinho. City where shaming Everton with a little bit more desire for the ball and it led to a long shot from Tevez that Howard had to block away.
But better play down the right saw Donovan cross well; however, Bily could only head it straight at Given in the City goal. In another warning at the other end, Robinho got on the end of a sweeping move sourced through the speedy Petrov and he could have easily opened the scoring. A nice free-kick from Pienaar, headed back across the danger area by Fellaini was completely mis-kicked by Saha.
Saha did well to free Donovan on the right and his brilliant chip was worth a goal but was intended more as cross to Cahill, who should have been there at the far post, but was instead at the near post! The next attack and Donovan this time cut inside to shoot but it was blocked away for a throw.
Decent pressure from Everton was just what the Goodison crowd had been yearning for, Baines then winning a corner that swung long for Fellaini but he could only plant it in Given's arms. Still.... better from Everton after a modest opening 20 mins.
Donovan's next corner was lower and headed away by Barry, the ball coming to Fellaini who controlled it well and volleyed with his right, the ball always curling away. Fellaini then went down hard, but recovered quickly.
Bily then had a great chance and struck it hard if a little high but it still needed fingertips from Given. Cahill and Fellaini challenged each other on the corner, the Aussie heading over. Donovan was disappointing, running the ball out of play from a very dangerous position.
By this point, Everton were attacking strongly and winning plenty of corners, Donovan varying the delivery, perhaps a little too much for the the Blues... Tevez was apparently struggling with his hamstring and getting snuffed out of the game by Heitinga as Everton surged forward in increasing control after the half-hour.
Zabaletta gave away a free kick, tacking down Saha on the edge of the City area, that Pienaar curled beautifully over the City wall, bouncing it on the line, where a despairing dive from Given was not enough to keep it out. Nothing less than Everton deserved for some excellent pressing forward play that, we had been told was impossible with so many injured players out, especially against such illustrious oponents.
Some great play by Cahill off another long ball from Neville got the ball to Bily who strode forward and lashed it wide of Given... and crucially a millimetre wide of the far post! Would have been an unbelievable goal!
A superb forward ball from Distin should have set Everton off again but Cahill incredibly gave it away and in a flash, Bellamy was up the Gwladys Street end, firing a wicked cross-cum shot across the Everton goal. But it led to another superb buildup, a fantastic ball from Pienaar to Saha, Richards could only haul on Saha's shirt as they both crossed the line into the area... PENALTY! And Saha converted it 3 mins into stoppage time for a fully deserved 2-0 lead.
Benjani on for Petrov after the break, and City looked to play more of the game, with Fellaini now making mistakes in the middle. A foul on Tevez let Garrido float one to the far post but it was harmlessly high and wide. Pienaar got a smack in the face, challenging Richards in midfield. On the hour, Wright-Phillips came on for Robinho, who was deemed to be poor but Everton were not really taking advantage or creating much... perhaps convinced that a two-goal lead was sufficient.
Distin gave away a dangerous free-kick out wide but Fellaini was equal to it but again the Blues failed to build on a defensive clearance, falling deeper and deeper into their all-too familiar defensive shell, giving City more and more to play for. Some better pressure forced a corner on 70 mins but picking out Fellaini way out in the far corner of the area was not the best option. Distin was then withdrawn in favour of Seamus Coleman, slotting in at right-back, with Capn Pip moving inside...
A Baines corner was cleverly clipped on by Bily but onto the roof of Given's net. The game became if anything somewhat scrappy in the final 20 mins, but one of Donovan's corners finally set up a great header from Fellaini that Given pushed on to the angle, Bily then blazing the rebound over from a tight angle. Then, a good run and excellent cross by Baines, Cahill headed onto the bar with 10 mins left.
A Bellamy free-kick almost set up Tevez but Cahill did enough to deny him. With 6 mins left, Vaughan came on for Saha. A nice heel pirouette with the ball by Fellaini set the crowd purring and they turned on the 'Ole' chants. Landon Donovan came off to a noisy ovation at full time, and Baxter coming on in his place as Everton looked to play out the game to a famous and much needed victory without extending themselves overmuch in the second half.
A billionnaire Arab owner and a seemingly limitless transfer budget can usher in record-signing thumb-sucking Brazilians, woo Argentina's star striker from neighbours Manchester United, persuade an Aston Villa stalwart to abandon Martin O'Neill's patient evolution, and leave Everton with little choice but to reluctantly sell one of their two best defenders.
What money can't buy at Manchester City, though, is chemistry, spirit, determination and a plain hunger to win and David Moyes's Everton, on their comparative shoestring budget, have all of those attributes in spades at the moment. Those priceless commodities, combined with no little skill and panache, it should be said, was more than enough to see the Blues wrestle control of this match from their nouveaux riches northwestern neighbours and then comprehensively outplay them in all departments to win comfortably.
In Roberto Mancini, City may well have found the man to eventually take them into the Champions League places and break the monopoly by the Sky Four of those all-important Premier League places, but on this evidence he has an awful lot of work to do. Nothing could have outlined that any more starkly than the performance of Robinho who came on as an early substitute for Roque Santa Cruz and was subsequently hauled off himself having contributed nothing beyond a 14th-minute volley that, had it flown in rather than high over the bar, might have been the first line in a very different script this afternoon.
For Moyes and Everton, this, like last weekend's superb shift at the Emirates, was a performance that served to underline the tragedy of their awful start to the season and the criminal failure to strengthen the team either early enough or extensively enough in the summer. For if the start of the season had been the 1st of January and not mid-August, Evertonians would surely be dreaming of their own team's chances of cracking the top four instead of the side lying 12 points adrift.
This was the Everton of last season, the one that finished fifth in the League and reached an FA Cup Final, the team that David Moyes has patiently assembled and fashioned from both hand-picked transfer targets and emergency solutions into one that is a match for any team on their day and it was an absolute joy to watch.
Underpinning it all was a quite majestic performance by Marouane Fellaini. Virtually invincible as he patrolled the midfield, almost impeccable in the tackle, and a finger-tip save away from scoring Everton's third, the Belgian was immense today; a sensational display from a player whose transformation from big-haired misfit to cultured, truly world class midfielder now looks complete.
If proof were needed, one effortless moment of skill provided it late in the second half when he stepped into a challenge and spun 360 degrees out of it with a nonchalent drag back, making a monkey of his opposite number and earning rapturous applause from the home fans.
The opening exchanges of the match promised an altogether tighter affair than was ultimately the case. City, with the "new manager syndrome" in full effect and four matches unbeaten, looked energetic and confident in the early going. Indeed, things were probably too even for Everton's liking in the first quarter of an hour, with Moyes's side lacking the rhythm and slick passing that characterised their display at Arsenal.
Martin Petrov had the game's first effort on goal when he cut in from the right wing and unloaded from 25 yards, forcing Tim Howard to push his shot away to safety. Diniyar Bilyaletdinov, starting in place of the injured Leon Osman, then headed Phil Neville's cross at Shay Given, before Louis Saha mis-kicked Fellaini's header back across goal.
In between those two chances for the home side, Robinho's chance to shine arrived when Carlos Tevez flicked on Zabaleta's right-wing cross but, thankfully, the Brazilian put his left-foot volley into the Gwladys Street stand.
Not long afterwards, the Blues seized control of the game and didn't let go. In the 20th minute, home debutant, Landon Donovan, expertly dummied Phil Neville's pass forward and then raced to pick up the return ball which the stretching Saha did well to lay into his path. Although the American's first touch was a little heavy, it nevertheless took him past his marker but from a tight angle he tried to clip it over the advancing 'keeper and the his effort dropped a yard away from the back post.
A minute later, Donovan jinked inside and pulled the trigger but his shot deflected off a defender behind for a corner as the home crowd began to sense that good things were in the offing. Three corners followed in the next few minutes, one of which Fellaini could only steer into Given's arms before a throw-in from the right eventually ended at the feet of the Belgian but he sliced a 20-yard shot wide.
Everton were starting to come forward now with abandon and City were being pegged back into their own half by the home side's relentless pressing game. In the 27th minute, a deep cross was cleared only as far as Bilyaletdinov and the Russian chested it forward and smashed a shot on goal that Given did brilliantly to finger-tip over the bar.
Much criticism has come Bilyaletdinov's way in recent weeks and, had Osman been fit, it's unlikely the former Lokomotiv Moscow man would have started but he has clearly been listening to accusations that he lacks off-the-ball movement and doesn't track back enough because he took to this game like a man on a mission to change people's minds.
Indeed, from left to right, Everton's midfield was superb and they out-fought, out-thought and out-played the visitors in the middle of the park for the vast majority of the match. Pienaar was combative and nimble, Fellaini a picture of composure and intelligent distribution, and Donovan was always a threat, though he saw less of the ball today than he did against Arsenal.
Nine minutes before the break, Everton got the reward their increasing dominance deserved when Zabaleta flattened Saha as he cut inside from the left flank, setting up a free-kick opportunity on the edge of the box that had Pienaar's name written all over it. Sure enough, the South African whipped a shot through the wall and inside the post that Given got a hand to but couldn't keep out and the Blues were ahead.
Perhaps hoping to exhibit a bit more of a killer instinct, they kept driving at City but when Cahill was released in plenty of space on the left side of the area, he eschewed the opportunity to shoot first-time and instead tried to engineer a square pass to Saha and he was crowded out.
He nearly made amends a minute later, though, when he held off his marker to chest the ball off into the path of Bilyaletdinov and, in a similar scenario to his first effort, the Russian took it in stride before unleashing another drive that arrowed an inch wide of Given's left-hand post.
Mancini's side almost played injury-time spoilers at the end of the half, though, when Bellamy brought a save out of Howard, the USA international tipping his attempted curling shot wide for a corner that was safely cleared. Instead, the stoppage time drama would take place at the other end when Saha picked up the ball outside the City area and advanced into the box despite Micah Richards having a firstful of his shirt.
When the defender still didn't let go, the linesman flagged insistently on the right touchline before putting the flag across his chest to signal a penalty. So rarely is the letter of the law applied in instances like these these days, particularly where Everton are concerned, that Saha's first reaction was disgust; he'd assumed a foul had been given against him! The City players protested, of course, but they had no legal leg to stand on.
Saha duly stepped up to take the spot-kick and calmly slotted the ball down the middle of the goal after Given had dived away to his left. 2-0 and Everton were coasting.
That made for a less urgent and somewhat less dominant second half. Though they never relinquished control in any department, the Blues did occasionally cede the initiative to City but so abject was their display going forward that they rarely threatened. Garrido provided a momentary cause for concern on Howard's part when he swung a free kick just inches past the upright and Bellamy fired over after a quick counter-attack but, for the most part, the visitors just couldn't compete with Everton's hunger to win the battles on the micro and macro levels.
That determination translated into a renewed desire to put City to the sword in the final quarter of an hour and when Fellaini rose to meet a Donovan corner with 13 minutes left, it looked as though he was going to cap a magnificent display with a goal but Given pawed his header onto the crossbar. Bilyaletdinov unfortunately hammered the rebound over when he might have done better or knocked it to Saha on his left.
Four minutes later, after Pienaar had released him down the left, Baines picked out Cahill with a perfect cross but his header would also come back off the woodwork, much to the frustration of the home faithful.
Had either of those chances gone in, it would have been deserved icing on the cake, but Everton can be enormously proud to have not only inflicted Mancini's first defeat in charge of City but to have done so in such emphatic fashion. On the evidence of the last two games, the Blues are in top-four form right now and, hopefully the psychological boost of having beaten a team from the top four (at least at the start of play) will translate into the sort of run of form that will close that yawning gap between them and the European places.
Most of all, it's vindication for Moyes, not only because he has once again steered his team around the proverbial corner and away from the relegation zone but also because his biggest signing is finally starting to look the part. Add in a vastly improved display by Bilyaletdinov, the remarkable bargain that was Pienaar, and the gamble that is paying off in the form of Saha, and there's yet more evidence why the determined Scot was, is, and will continue to be the right man for the Everton job. Just think what he could do with some real financial backing...
Howard 7, Neville 7, Baines 8, Heitinga 8, Distin 6 (loses marks for poor distribution), Fellaini 9* (a few sloppy passes in the second half short of flawless), Donovan 7, Bilyaletdinov 8, Pienaar 8, Cahill 7, Saha 7
Subs: Coleman 7, Vaughan 7, Baxter (not on long enough)
The conclusion of last weekend's thrilling draw with Arsenal may have been gut-wrenching for Everton but they could only have taken positives from what was a near complete transformation from the shambles that gifted the Gunners a 6-1 away win on the opening day of the season.
Having held London's two biggest teams to a point on their own turf and completely dominated Liverpool with no reward a few weeks, the challenge for the Blues as they face the great pretenders from the blue half of Manchester is to start putting wins on the board against the so-called top sides.
City are the only team David Moyes's side haven't yet faced in the Premier League this season so it will be their first crack at the team that again grabbed the transfer headlines over the summer with huge money purchases like Carlos Teves and, of course, ex-Blue Joleon Lescott. Now unbeaten in four games since the arrival of the sartorially elegant Roberto Mancini, the Eastlands club currently occupy the coveted fourth Champions League spot.
Lescott, of course, won't be making his first appearance at Goodison since that £24m move along the M62; he is out injured, just like his former defensive partner at Goodison, Phil Jagielka, who is back in training but remains some way short of a first-team return.
One of the men now filling Lescott's shoes is Lucas Neill and with few options open to Moyes, the Australian captain will almost certainly make his last appearance for Everton before jetting off to join Galatasaray after a sudden £1m transfer was concluded this week. Neill has been at Goodison just four months but such was the standard of his contributions as an emergency centre-back that his absence will be keenly felt.
Assuming he does play, John Heitinga will again line up beside him, with Phil Neville and Leighton Baines either side as they were at the Emirates last Saturday.
In fact, Moyes could well field an unchanged line-up, with Landon Donovan making his home debut after a hugely impressive first outing against Arsenal. That would mean Louis Saha starting up front, supported by Tim Cahill, and Steven Pienaar, Leon Osman and the ever-improving Marouane Fellaini rounding out the midfield.
The near-victory at Arsenal proved without doubt that this Everton side can not only live with but also, with a greater killer instinct and better finishing, beat the best sides in the division, so there is no reason why they can't overcome City under the evening lights at Goodison.
|Premier League Scores|
|Premier League Table|
|2009-10 Reports Index|
|When Skies Are Grey||Report|
|Everton fans' reports|
|Other media reports|
|4 the Game||Report|
|Distin (70' Coleman)|
|Donovan (90+1' Baxter)|
|Saha (85' Vaughan)|
|Subs not used|
|Yakubu (international duty)|
|Yobo (international duty)|
|Jo (disciplinary action)|
|MAN CITY (4-4-2)|
|Petrov (46' Benjani)|
|Santa Cruz (9' Robinho (61' Wright-Phillips))|
|Subs not used|
|Premier League Scores|
|Saturday 16 January 2010|
|Sunday 17 January 2010|
|Aston Villa||0-0||West Ham|
|Premier League Table|
|After 17 Jan 2010|