Had Everton been able to carve out a first win over Manchester City in two-and-a-half years, they would, perhaps for only 24 hours or so, be sitting on the top of the Premier League with three matches gone having made their best start to a season in almost 10 years.
Following the emphatic nature of the 3-0 win Southampton last weekend and with the possibility that the club might unveil a new signing or two Goodison Park this afternoon, optimism was high that Roberto Martinez's side might be able to do just that with the right kind of performance and the rub of the green.
Unfortunately, none of the new players were signed in time and, on the pitch, luck would not be on their side today – not only did the Blues' display fall short of the calibre needed to end their opponent's 100% start to the new campaign, they came up against a City side that displayed all the characteristics of a team on course to reclaim its Premier League crown. It is they who will almost certainly occupy the top flight's summit tomorrow night, a lofty position that still looks some way beyond Everton's reach on this evidence.
It wasn't that Martinez's men played particularly badly overall but the solitary shot on target they mustered spoke volumes of their inability to seriously examine the visitors' rearguard. The pace, cohesion and incisiveness in the final third that proved much for the Saints last Saturday was largely absent despite an unchanged line-up and when the manager belatedly tried to salvage the game with his remaining second-half substitutions, he altered the personnel but neither the shape nor the outcome.
Everton made a habit of frustrating and beating City when Roberto Mancini was in charge but those stirring results were mostly achieved on the back of relentless pressure, tenacity in midfield and sheer will going forward; here the desire appeared to be there but the Blues left simply left City's most dangerous players too much space in which to operate and failed to make enough inroads at the other end.
Despite having not really risen to the occasion, at the halfway stage Everton's plan was still very much intact, however. Indeed, they could count themselves slightly unfortunate not to be ahead after Romelu Lukaku had seen a first-half "goal" ruled out by an incredibly tight offside decision and then grazed the crossbar with a direct free kick after Tom Cleverley had been upended in full flight by Fernandinho on the edge of the "D". Phil Jagielka had also gone close with a header off a corner and Seamus Coleman's left-footed shot at the end of a solo run slid narrowly wide of Joe Hart's post.
By the same token, a half-time lead might have flattered Everton given how important Tim Howard had been in the early going when he twice denied Sergio Aguero with impressive saves with his legs, saw Yaya Toure flash the ball across his goal and then bundled Raheem Sterling's low shot behind.
It was City who emerged from the interval showing evidence of a managerial catalyst, however, and it resulted in their superiority eventually telling within 15 minutes of the restart. A better finish from the game's stand-out performer, David Silva, would have put the Blues behind a lot earlier in the second half – he latched onto Sterling's reverse pass and smacked a shot off the face of Howard's right-hand post – but Aleksander Kolarov provided the opening goal on the hour mark.
Sterling, booed throughout because of his Liverpool connections, was again the provider with a neat pass that found Kolarov's unchecked run on the overlap and with Howard inexplicably diving in the direction of an anticipated cross, the Serbian fired easily inside the American's near post.
It was ironic that such a sloppily-conceded goal had come down City's left because Everton had been compromised late in the first half by an injury to Brendan Galloway that necessitated his withdrawal, with Tyias Browning thrown into an unfamiliar left-back role and charged with the task of dealing with the direct running of Jesus Navas. Curiously, the visitors hadn't tried too often to exploit the youngster's weakness out of his natural position but there was a strong case for Martinez dropping Gareth Barry back to left back and Cleverley alongside James McCarthy to allow for Kevin Mirallas to come on further forward.
Despite Kone's impact inthe previous two games, the Belgian's guile and goalscoring productivity had been many fans' preference to play off Lukaku up front so it was mystifying – and then infuriating – when he didn't start and was then left unused on the bench for the entire 90 minutes. (Mirallas himself was visibly annoyed that, having warmed up on the touchline, he wasn't called upon, even in the late stages.) Instead, it was Steven Naismith who replaced Kone in the 65th minute after Howard had partially redeemed himself with a point-blank save to deny Navas from the angle following a mix-up between John Stones and Browning near the touchline. Perhaps Martinez had both Naismith's rescue act in this fixture last season in mind and his team's threat from set-pieces in this game in mind when he made the change but the Scot offered nothing to change Everton's attacking dimension.
Indeed, the Blues' display as a whole had become disconcertingly poor by this stage, lacking in any real finesse or intensity. An occasional threat running from deep in the first half, Barkley's decision-making had diminished in quality, Lukaku was cutting a familiarly isolated figure up front and with Everton lacking any width apart from the willing running from Coleman – the man of the match from the home perspective – it left them bereft of any real attacking threat from open play.
They were able to unsettle Hart from a couple of corners, however, that the England international struggled to deal with but after Naismith's shot was charged down leading to a second consecutive set-piece, referee Anthony Taylor waved away appeals for a penalty when Toure jumped over Jagielka in the City area. Barry then had a header that looked to be flying wide cleared away from the goal line.
It's not clear what Martinez was seeing because Gerard Deulofeu, who would eventually become the third and final substitute, stood ready to come on for a good five minutes before he finally came on in place of Cleverley. Even as late as the 86th minute, the Spaniard's introduction offered hope of a late flourish but it would be a dreadful five-minute cameo filled with poor touches that betrayed his rustiness and raised more questions as to why he and not Mirallas was thrown on with the Blues chasing a point.
One more moment of typical Manchester City brilliance rendered the change moot two minutes from time, however. Toure's smart flick past a flat-footed Everton defence released Nasri in behind the Blues' back line and he dinked it over Howard who, bafflingly, didn't raise a hand in defence of his effort as it floated past his shoulder.
It was a goal that underscored that the better team won on a day on which Everton were unable to bridge the divide with sufficient tenacity, drive or invention. The result ends the Blues' unbeaten start and further undermines the notion of "Fortress Goodison" which has now witnessed three successve defeats and a disappointing draw since Manchester United were humbled here at the tail end of April.
Martinez has promised that reinforcements are coming but you couldn't help but feel that we need more than one possible marquee acquisition – assuming, of course, that even materlialises given the doubts expressed before kick-off by a report in the Liverpool Echo surrounding the proposed move for Andriy Yarmolenko – and the addition of a back-up defender and striker. At the same time, though, if the manager is going to keep leaving the craft in the form Mirallas and even Leon Osman on the bench in favour of the industrious but one-dimensional central-midfield triumverate of Barry, Cleverley and James McCarthy, it's not going to matter whom we sign unless it is a grafter like Aaron Lennon because they could spend more time on the bench.
It's a curious state of affairs given how attacking and expansive Martinez's outlook was when he first arrived. Today smacked of playing it safe and hoping for something to break in the Blues' favour rather than taking the bull by the horns when it was still 0-0. City were superior but also somewhat fortunate and the margins on the day in front of of the respective goals were slim. Sometimes fortune favours the brave...
An unchanged Everton line-up were overawed by a confident Manchester City, Lukaku scoring a good goal that was given marginally (wrongly?) offside. He also clipped the bar with a late free-kick. Kolarov finally beat Howard at the near post, with Nasri chipping Howard easily to secure the points.
For the visit of Manchester City, Roberto Martinez stuck with last week's winning side, with Mirallas and Deulofeu on the bench, and Ramiro Funes Mori among the crowd, sporting an Everton scarf.
Everton started well and held possession until a poor pass from Lukaku that exposed Barry and Man City surged forward, Aguero firing in low, forcing an excellent one-footed save by Howard. There was more controlled football from Everton but it wasn't getting them far beyond the half-way line. When they did get forward, the control was poor on the crucial forward pass.
Man City attacked with pace Navas crossing for Aguero who had a lot of time to finish but Howard saved well. Everton decided to vary it, with a ball over the top for Lukaku to chase and the move ended with a poor over-hit cross from Cleverley, who then won a corner with a blocked cross.
The game initially was fairly even, with good possession and passing play from both siides, but City starting to put things together, Silva firing in on Howard, then Silva almost laying it on a plate for Sterling who just could not reach it. Galloway was getting a tough test from Navas down the Everton left but he did well to block the ball out for a corner.
Everton were now on the back foot, struggling to get the ball cleared as attack after attack from the light blue shirts. The Royal Blues slowed it down a bit, and did get forward, Barkley firing straight at Hart. Everton tried to build again through the middle but three successive dreadful touches from Lukaku lost the ball each time.
Everton tried to work the ball slowly down the right, and it was pace that was lacking until Coleman swung the ball over to Kone who set up Barkley but he played it to Lukaku who had strayed just offside as he slot the ball in past Hart. City attacked again after the restart and Howard had to save again, from Toure.
Coleman was allowed to stutter-step forward down the right to the edge of the City box and, with nothing else on, he poked the ball goalwards, just wide of the post. At the other end, Sterling dodged inside of Coleman and forced another save from Howard, and the defence looked shakey on the corner. A free-kick from the half-way line was wasted by Jagielka, lofted high and wide toward Stones.
Cleverley got another corner off a City defender and Cleverley swung out the set piece to Jageilka whose driving header was powered just over the bar from the edge of the area. But another City attack down Galloway's side again came close to breaking the deadlock, Toure firing across goal.
Stones was a little too strong on Aguero and City were given a very dangerous free-kick that Silva fired in but it was headed clear. But City kept pressing, Jagielka blocking superbly, Sagna begging for a penalty, as Galloway stayed down after tackling him, and needed treatment.
A better drive down the middle, Lukaku playing in Barkley, ended with a free-kick and a yellow card for Mangala. Barkley launched the set-piece in orbit around Pluto. Horrible waste. Galloway Was suffering and sat unhappily on the turf, before limping off, with Browning coming on to replace him during the 4 minutes of added time.
Cleverley went on another good run down the middle and was hacked down by Fernandinho, who saw yellow, this time Lukaku getting the honour to fire over the massive wall, just clipping the top of the crossbar.
The match was tied at half-time, but the feeling was that up until the action in added time, Everton had played far too much within themselves, and a little in awe of their well-endowed visitors.
City came at Everton with some determination after the break, Silva slashing a lethal shot against the post as he got behind the Blues defence. Everton looked even more starstruck and struggled to get on the ball. panicking when they did, as City surged at them again, Browning doing well to tackle Navas inside the penalty box but then switching off for the resulting short corner.
Coleman's fighting spirit wins the ball and advances down the right but the cross is heads away. But the play keeps going until Cleverley's inviting cross that Lukaku failed to run in for, and a brief respite to the City dominance ended with nothing. In the next attack, Cleverley almost plays in Kone, but not enough guile.
Another good move down the middle with Barry and Coleman almost broke the City defence but Lukaku's header was too close to Kompany with Barkley ready to receive and score behind him.
City attacked again and it seemed too simple, as Kolarov scored past Howard from an impossible angle, made possible only by Howard opening up the space criminally at the near post.
Stones and Browning fouled each other, give Navas acres of apace and 10 mins to beat Howard, which he failed to do, a tremendous save by Howard as Naismith replaced Kone. He worked well with Barkley who got a corner that Cleverley curled in well. Naismith drove off another defender for a second, then a third corner, these taken from the left by Barkley, as Toure towered over the rooted Jagielka to win the ball and head clear.
The crowd got more into it as the contest between Sterling and Coleman warmed things up, but the effect seemed to benefit City rather than the home side, who were forced back after a better spell. When Everton did go forward, Coleman strayed needlessly offside.
With Mirallas still on the bench, and time ticking away, it seemed to be an opportunity missed by Martinez, who needed to take a real risk here in order to get his side back in the match. Coleman was doing well, and won another corner from Cleverley that caused havoc before another chance McCarthy headed past Hart to the back post where Kompany cleared off the line.
The ball really just wasn't dropping for Everton as another move through the middle with Naismith and McCarthy broke down. Lukaku was having a terrible game nothing at all working for him. Another Everton corner, Jagielka could not get to Cleverley's quality delivery. Lukaku and Naismith then had a chance to create something from an ill-advised back-heel by Mangala but again it would not run for the Royal Blues who were once more crowded out.
With only 5 minutes left, Martinez finally made the change, Deulofeu on for Cleverley, far too late to make any difference, surely? But it was City who score after Navas stung Howard's gloves, Nasri chipped the ball simply over Howard for the final goal. Pathetic defending from Everton, who had failed to really challenge effectively.
A final corner came to nothing and summed things up. A very disappointing outcome after a respectable but uninspiring display considering what might have been if Everton had gone for the jugular a little more, sin meido, rather than showing the fear and trepidation that set in last season.Everton: Howard; Coleman, Jagielka (c), Stones, Galloway (45+2' Browning); Barry, McCarthy; Cleverley (86' Deulofeu), Barkley; Kone (64' Naismith), Lukaku.
Subs not Used: Robles, Mirallas, Besic, Osman.
Manchester City: Hart, Sagna, Kompany (C), Mangala [Y:43'], Kolarov, Toure, Fernandinho [Y:45+4'], Navas, Sterling (76' Nasri [Y:86']), Silva (90' Delph), Aguero (81' Bony).
Subs not Used: Caballero, Demichelis, Denayer, Iheanacho.
Referee: Anthony Taylor
From My Seat: Man City (H)
We all turned up in hot conditions but most must be weather-watchers as showerproofs were accompanying T-Shirts and shorts. The Room of Nonsense was abuzz with transfer speculation. In short the conclusions were that Stones will be kept but apart from that any other incomings or outgoings will not be believed until someone waves the shirt and every Everton member gets the confirming e-mail. Everton and transfers are always treated this way by our gang as years of anticipation at all the rumours have left us a cynical lot.
Teams were announced and no change from last week which left most quite happy. Also, the bench looked quite strong which did not go unnoticed. However, during discussion it was felt that the fit again Mirallas should have been in for Kone.
Time for the walk up and the showerproofs were out as we were having mild drizzle. The protesters were out but this time it wasn’t Everton’s Chairman or board being targeted but rather Mayor Joe was being encouraged to go due to alleged corruption within the council. Rather than a plane they had a big black van with all necessary placards in place.
The drizzle didn’t put anyone off as Spellow Lane was well-populated and on turning into Goodison Road Fat van, chippies and cafĂ© were churning out enough fast food to worry the health police. Talking of police, their horses had been there and their droppings mixed with drizzle is a mixture to avoid for a near sell-out crowd of 38,523 who, after entering the ground, gave a terrific welcome to the players. City had filled their section and were in bullish mood.
The game started in lively fashion with both sides getting into gear. Early doors Lukaku with a lousy touch set City on a break to our goal and but for a fine stop by the foot of Howard Aguero could have turned it into a terrible start. Both teams were getting forward when they could but it was noticeable that City seemed to have the greater threat especially down our left where they seemed to have targeted our left back area. This was borne out when the speedy Navas sped past our left-back and crossed for Aguero to take his time and aim at goal but Howard did a fine block.
The half wore on in a fairly even fashion with both teams playing good joined up stuff yet when it came to final thirds City always looked to have the edge on us. Where they caused good blocks and saves our attacks yet again seemed to lose momentum. Poor first touches and sloppy passes being our downfall. We had one move of note when Coleman hit a long one to Kone who deftly played in Barkley and he played on the ground to Lukaku in the box. He duly netted but rapture turned to sorrow as a lino’s flag ruled it offside. I look forward to seeing that again as it looked right close to me but the lino’s view was far better than mine.
A goal then could well have changed the game but now we will never know. We were awarded a free-kick just outside the box that Barkley took... oh dear, they are still looking for the ball in Stanley Park. Just before the break Galloway went to the turf for a second time and after treatment was led off to be replaced by another rookie in Browning.
Halt time arrived with the game goalless and most seemed pleased with our efforts considering the wealth of talent that was against us. I did think that in that half we should have been a little more adventurous at times instead of giving City as much respect as we did. Easy for me to say, I know, but we just hadn’t fully gone for it when the chance arose which was not that often.
Second half and City looked like a team who had been told to up their game. Ex-red Sterling was booed on his every touch but he seemed untroubled as his link up with Silva got the City man around the back and he smacked a post. A let off and a warning.
City were coming at us more and more now and we seemed a bit in awe of them as we were timid in a lot of our work both attacking and defending. Stones was certainly not playing for away as some of his tackling was strong and was never afraid to put his head in danger but he did give us the jitters by trying to play his way out of trouble and getting in a mess on a few occasions. He has great confidence in himself though. Coleman was our main attacking threat and his buccaneering runs and crosses were reminiscent of a couple of seasons ago.
As the hour mark loomed City were piling it on more and more with our counters sporadic and lacking in craft and guile. Final passes going astray and player misunderstandings ending dangerous looking moves allowing City to break and from one of these the ever raiding Sterling fed Kolarov who got almost to our byline with three Everton bodies in attendance. One of them put his hand up to claim offside but Kolarov had sped in and smashed the ball home between Howard and his near post. Looked like keeper error.
You could see disappointment and disbelief on the players as with shoulders sagging they slowly made their way back into position for the restart. Our manager left it little more than 5 minutes to change Kone who I thought had done OK with Naismith. I was hoping for Mirallas who at least has pace and unpredictability, two qualities that I thought could just unsettle a confident City. We had the comical sight of Stones and Browning chasing the same ball down our left and both attacking the ball at the same time thus tackling one another and allowing Navas a free run on our goal. He hit the ball with power at Howard's legs hoping to get the ball through them but our keeper had none of it and made an excellent block.
At the other end Cleverley and Naismith forced a corner which we attacked and won another one but this time City headed clear and that bit of excitement was gone. But it had got the crowd up and Goodison was ringing out with support and got even louder when Coleman goy the better of Sterling in front of the City fans and headed off down the wing. The Irishman was up for it now and soon forced a corner which was cleared. Coleman attacked again as the clock ticked and from a cross Barry headed goal ward beating the keeper but Kompany headed off the line. Drat, said many!
Although City looked the better side we did attack and although these moves broke down I didn’t think it was all the fault of the players because on a few occasions we just seemed to be having no luck, no rub of the green as good balls would just deflect enough to halt the move if not bad luck it was certainly frustrating players and fans alike.
Just five minutes to go and Deulofeu is brought on in place of Cleverley. I won’t describe his offering instead let’s be charitable and conclude he is rusty after not playing much football in Spain. I sat bemused for a moment contemplating why no Mirallas. I doubt we will ever know.
2 minutes to the 90 and City again targeted our left flank and got Navas in. He strode into the box and from point blank range hammered one in that Howard did well to push away but only to the incoming Nasri and between the hesitant Howard and two other defenders Nasri was allowed a free chip over Howard and into the net. 2-0 down and a mass exodus of fans. The remaining 4 minutes of added were played out and then the final whistle. Many of us were disappointed but in the cold light of day the better team had won but only with two goalkeeping errors.
MotM – Silva... but for Everton, Coleman
Overall a frustrating day out yet one that showed we are looking better than last season and how we look after the window closes will give us a better idea of how we will look by seasons end.
My man in the family enclosure tells me Mirallas when warming up was shaking his head in frustration and when Osman was sent out he threw hands to his head. I reckon he was not happy.
Early in the game at a City corner stewards were called to an incident in the Street end. It turned out someone had taken ill and were eventually carried out of the ground on a stretcher. I hope they have recovered well. It was impressive to see such quick action taken and by the number of official people in attendance – Well done Everton.
Barnsley next on Wednesday night. Now I can’t wait for that team sheet.
Keep the faith for today we could have been beaten by this seasons champions... unless of course we have a great transfer window.
See you soon.
UP THE BLUES!
Everton are back at Goodison Park and under the glare of the live TV cameras again for the visit of Manchester City and a match that has taken on an entirely different complexion from the Blue point of view in the wake of last weekend's stunning 3-0 win at Southampton.
Following a summer of frustratingly limited transfer activity and the disappointing 2-2 draw against Watford in the season-opener two weeks ago, the run of fixtures that would see Everton take on all of last season's top eight sides before the end of October looked even more daunting. Now, however, in the context of the performance at the St Mary's Stadium, the horizons of possibility have broadened a little; not too much stock should be put in one match but it at least lays down a marker for how Roberto Martinez's side can play.
It was a timely display because City, having fallen short last term of the standards they set in their title-winning season in 2013-14, have started this campaign in blistering fashion, taking six points from six in their opening two games, and not only firing six goals without reply but blitzing reigning Champions Chelsea in the process. The Everton that left the field after the Watford game to vocal disillusionment from the terraces might have approached this Sunday's game with a good deal of trepidation but with that win over the Saints under their belt, there should be plenty of self-belief coursing through their veins.
Martinez will be bolstered by the return to full fitness of Kevin Mirallas following a heavy ankle knock sustained on the opening day. He was included on the bench last Saturday but was not needed and, together with Gerard Deulofeu who only made a late cameo in the Southampton game, he will have benefited from an extra week's rest.
Whether either wide man will start, however, will largely come down either to how the manager approaches the visit of Manchester City in terms of formation or whether he will feel the need to reward the likes of Arouna Kone for his impact in both matches so far. Martinez has used a deceptively defensive-looking 4-5-1 line-up against the top teams like Arsenal and Manchester United but employed a counter-attacking strategy to soak up pressure and then pick the opposition off on the break.
Martinez hasn't been able to find a winning formula against the blue half of Manchester, however. Thanks to a rampaging goal typical of Romelu Lukaku's own first season at Everton, the Catalan's side took the lead at the Etihad in early October 2013 but ended up losing 3-1 and would give up a lead handed them by Ross Barkley's spectacular opener in the reverse fixture as well to lose 3-2. Last season's 1-1 draw secured by Steven Naismith's equaliser represents the only point the Blues have picked up against City under Martinez so it will be interesting to see how he approaches this one.
For his part, Lukaku appears to be in bullish mood following his brace at the St Mary's and Barkley is also off to an excellent start with two goals to his name already as well. Both are likely to start, with one of Mirallas or Kone likely to form the final prong in a three-point attack, and it would not be surprising to see the rest of the line-up unchanged, with Brendan Galloway continuing at left back in the absence of the injured Leighton Baines.
Whatever shape and selection he goes with, Martinez's side face what could ultimately be one of its most difficult tests on home soil all season. They have lost reserve firepower with the departures of Edin Dzeko and Stefan Jovetic while Pablo Zabaleta has been ruled out through injury but Sergio Aguero looks sharp and hungry, Yaya Toure has banished talk that he is too far over the hill to influence City's quest to regain the title, David Silva has lost none of his creative brilliance and ex-red Raheem Sterling has plenty to prove on his first return to Merseyside.
It promises to be a stern examination not of Everton's slightly depleted defence but also of their rebuilding confidence and resolve. But, as is always the case for these kinds of games, the prize at the end should the Blues pull off a win in terms of confidence is huge. If the 12th man of Goodison can raise the roof in the manner in which they so often do when City come to town – perhaps with the added lift of a couple of new signings in the bag by the time kick-off rolls around – it could provide the shot in the arm to carry Martinez's men over the line.
Kick off: 4pm
Referee: Anthony Taylor
Predicted line-up: Howard; Coleman, Stones, Jagielka, Galloway; Barry, McCarthy, Cleverley, Mirallas, Barkley; Lukaku