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Blues Take a Point and the Positives

By Lyndon Lloyd   ::  01/12/2012

Manchester City 1 - 1 Everton

When you have to score an extra goal each week just to overcome horrendous officiating and get the result you deserve, something is wrong with the game. Stop me if you've heard this one before...

Granted, on the balance of play, a draw was probably a fair result from what was a tight game, dominated in one half by an Everton side that was anything but the doormat they were in this fixture last season and in the second by a Manchester City team that flattered to deceive and dropped two points at home for only the second time this season.

As the Blues have found to their frustration and cost so far, however, if you don't put the ball in the net enough times, it's hard to win and had referee Lee Probert not gifted the Champions a path back into this game with a hugely controversial penalty award just before half-time, Roberto Mancini might well have been rueing a rare defeat instead of the point his side were fortunate to pick up.

David Moyes, for his part, was left angry at yet more refereeing incompetence but he will rightly feel that unlike some of the annoying games that have ended even in recent weeks, this was a good draw for the Blues. He was rewarded for taking a positive approach to what was Everton's toughtest assignment so far in the campaign with a 33rd-minute lead — scored, of course, by Marouane Fellaini — and the point was secured with a determined defensive display in the second half in which Mancini's expensively-assembled team forced just one meaningful save from Tim Howard despite the talent amassed in their ranks.

Everton have made a habit of scoring their goals in the first half this season, a fact that would have come as no surprise to the neutral given the impressive way in which they began proceedings, controlling almost exclusively the first five minutes and fashioning the first chances of the game.

Unfortunately, though their approach play was often laudably composed and patient, they continually let themselves down with the final ball or a shot that lacked conviction. Steven Naismith wasted excellent ball work by Darron Gibson early on by dragging a disappointing shot across Joe Hart's goal and Leon Osman didn't do much better a few minutes later with a soft effort when Nikica Jelavic was in space to his left.

And when the Steven Pienaar partnership with Leighton Baines — passed fit despite feeling a twinge in his hamstring in the latter stages of Wednesday's draw with Arsenal — combined beautifully, the South African failed to find a Blue jersey from a dangerous position near the byline. Jelavic too let a good opening slip away with a poor pass that rolled through to the goalkeeper after doing sterling work to rob Maicon near the touchline and drive into the penalty area unimpeded.

So it wasn't all that surprising, then, that the goal came from a more direct route via a typically threatening delivery from Baines on the left flank. Jelavic couldn't quite get to it and Vincent Kompany could only divert it on towards the back post where Fellaini was lurking to head goalwards. Hart saved well from point-blank range but the big Belgian prodded the rebound over the line with his thigh and Everton were deservedly ahead.

With Gibson orchestrating things superbly in midfield and the players on a seek-and-disrupt mission that kept their hosts under regular pressure, the Blues would enjoy 55% to 45% superiority in the first half and, despite a couple of close calls, were fairly comfortable at the back. Howard did have to punch away a David Silva free kick mid-way though the half and he later pawed a Carlos Tevez header behind from one side of his goal and blocked Edin Dzeko's close-range shot on the other.

It was from that corner that the game's most contentious decision arrived, though. Silva lofted the ball into the area, Osman fell to the turf, Dzeko followed suit with Fellaini barely touching his arm and referee Probert stunned the Everton contingent by pointing to the spot. Repeated reviews of the replays wouldn't make the reason for the decision any clearer and, with no recourse, the visitors had to accept parity when Tevez scored his first goal against them from 12 yards.

The second half was, somewhat predictably, a different proposition for the Blues than had been the first. City came out of the interval very much on the front foot and forced the Everton midfield back a good 10 to 15 yards. The likes of Tony Hibbert and Leighton Baines, who had been playing high up on the home side's flanks, spent less and less time coming forward and Jelavic, whose solid shift would end up consisting of a lot of chasing and attempting to hold the ball up, became noticeably more isolated.

In truth, Moyes could have done with the pace of someone like Kevin Mirallas, who missed his fourth game with a hamstring strain, as an outlet because Jelavic alone wasn't able to make the ball "stick" up front, though he tried gamely enough. And with the likes of Naismith and Osman guilty of poor distribution at times, the ball was coming back at the defence more than was comfortable.

When Everton were able to counter, they visibly lacked pace and a couple of promising chances to catch City out-numbered at the back fizzled out as first Jelavic and then Pienaar couldn't fashion an opening, the latter break ending with Gibson rifling goalwards but seeing his shot come back off a defender.

For all that, though, Mancini's men only really troubled Howard once in 45 minutes, that an Exocet from Maicon from the corner of the box that the American parried it away well. Indeed, once they had weathered what storm City could create for 25 minutes, it was the Blues who had the better chances to take the points in the closing stages.

After Jelavic's rampage on the counter-attack had been stopped by Zabaleta who flattened him unceremoniously just outside the area, the Croatian himself stepped up to take the free kick and almost embarrassed Hart with a shot that bounced in front of the goalkeeper and squirmed behind for a corner as the England man struggled to deal with it.

All in all, a richly deserved point served with a side of yet more annoyance at costly officiating. To come away from the Etihad Stadium feeling hard done by that you didn't win is a mark of progress on the last time this fixture was played and emphasises that as soon as this Everton side can put together a run of victories, they will be very much in the hunt for fourth as Arsenal and Chelsea, in particular, continue to falter.

With Gibson back and looking as good as ever — his run of being unbeaten in games where he has played 2/3 or more of match stretches into the 30s now — the first key will be the return of Mirallas who has shown he can be the difference in the final third. Hopefully, he will be back for the visit of Spurs next weekend for another difficult game against a rival for the top four. The next will be anything Moyes can do in the transfer window, either in the form of loan acquisitions or a sly purchase, to bolster the strong core of 12 to 15 players that he currently has at his disposal.

The important thing is that though they aren't winning at the moment — it's now just one win in 11 in the Premier League — they are playing well, remain hard to beat and have the potential to win every game they play. That continues to bode well for the second half of the campaign.

MotM: Darron Gibson

Reader Comments

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Zaid Omar
276 Posted 02/12/2012 at 06:27:55
Despite the poor refereeing decisions and our inability to convert draws into wins in the last month or so, we are still playing with confidence and some really neat football at times. And yesterday what was really encouraging was how solid we looked in defence. With Mirallas coming back and hopefully a bit more cutting edge in the final third, I can see us pushing on.
Paul Ellam
307 Posted 02/12/2012 at 12:57:47
I'm happy enough with the draws against Citteh and Arsenal (it's more than we got in the same games last season) but it's the draws against teams that we should be beating that are hurting.

I am keeping the faith though! I expect Jelavic to start netting very soon and turning these draws into wins.
Shane Corcoran
336 Posted 02/12/2012 at 17:50:06
It's all very strange. Playing well, yet one win in 11. Some players (Osman, Fellaini and Baines) in top form; others (Naismith and Jelavic) well short.

The most telling thing is the table: 5 points separating 3rd from 10th. All still to play for and January could be critical...
Tom Bowers
341 Posted 02/12/2012 at 18:16:21
If we had more power from midfield, we would be a top team now. We haven't had a great midfield since the days of Sheedy, Steven, Reid and Bracewell.

Getting forward quickly from defence is what we need and not 20 five-yard passes sideways and backwards which are what Osman, Pienaar and Naismith are good at – and merely shows up their inadequacies. Occasionally a hoof ball finds Fellaini who's great control can set something up when he isn't being fouled.

When a team doesn't break quickly enough, then the passage to goal becomes so much more difficult for teams like Everton. Mirallas provided that speed from midfield and can go past players and has been missed. As soon as he is back, we may start to win again.
Brian Harrison
355 Posted 02/12/2012 at 20:08:33
Despite Jelavic not at his best in the last few weeks we are still handily placed. We have played the best 2 teams in the league and more than held our own. Also we have had Gibson and Mirallas missing a number of games, so hopefully if we can get our best 11 on the field in the next 7-8 games I can see us back in the top 4 maybe as high as 3rd if Chelsea keep going as they are.

Sunday's game against Spurs will be crucial; we really do have to stop drawing games and start winning. This is the time of the season that we normally start to fire on all cylinders, and I see nothing that should alter that.

I also think that David Moyes is letting the board know that, if they try and tell him to sell in the January, then he's off, so that time will be very important for us. I would hope that the board, with increased revenue coming from Sky next season, might actually let him have some of that money in January to help him secure a Champions League spot.

Tom Bowers
373 Posted 02/12/2012 at 22:51:21
The only person I possibly see going in January is Heitinga who is not Euro cup tied.

We cannot afford to sell anyone really without being assured the incoming of a replacement given the thin squad Everton has.

Fellaini will be a big target for some clubs particularly as also he is not Euro cup tied and if the money is right then it will be hard for a ''poor club'' like Everton to refuse.

Hopefully no one leaves and Moyes gets another decent loan or two to bolster the squad
Nick Lambert
378 Posted 02/12/2012 at 23:17:16
I agree with the gist of Jagielka's comments. Yes, the penalty award may have been soft... but if you hold/grapple at corners you can't complain when the penalty is actually given. We all know it's a foul but referees bottle the decisions at corners most of the time. Simple solution: don't do it and you won't have anything to worry about out.

It's not horrendous officiating at all. I think we're kidding ourselves. More pertinently, why can't our fricking defence keep a clean sheet! That's why our league position isn't quite where it should be.
Anto Byrne
395 Posted 03/12/2012 at 05:54:49
Never a penalty but, given the way we have been treated so far this season with decisions, I'm not surprised they got a gift. Reading was a gift because, nine times out of ten, that would have been waved on. I would have been happy to lose 4 and win 4 of those eight drawn games as we would be better off points wise. Time to roll Spurs I think a 4-0 thumping is on the cards.
Colin Malone
424 Posted 03/12/2012 at 11:19:58
The penalty incident, we've seen them not given most of the time... but this is Everton: we get nothing, zilch off referees. Lescott getting assaulted by Carragher in the derby for example.

Getting to the performances, our defence is 100% better since Johnny has been dropped, and that is a MASSIVE plus. Believe me, if we can maintain our current form from our defence, and no major injuries in front of them, we'll be a top four side, no problem.

ps: Duffy to step in ahead of Johnny, if Jags or Distin get injured.
Neil Higginbotham
490 Posted 03/12/2012 at 19:00:07
Lyndon, great article as usual. But, you use the phrase "hugely controversial penalty award" which belies the issue Everton are facing this season. It was not controversial. The match commentators talked as if it were a stonewall penalty. In my reading of other websites reporting of the match there is little or no mention of the decision being contentious. Unfortunately, it for damn sure would have been controversial had it gone against one of your 'big' clubs.

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