A week earlier, Everton beat City 2-1 in the first leg of their Capital One League Cup and again last night they were a thorn in the side of Manuel Pellegrini’s side. Preventing City from scoring at home for the first time this season, they also stopped the 2014 champions from closing the gap on joint Premier League leaders Leicester and Arsenal, who were at least pegged back by Liverpool in a 3-3 draw, meaning it was not all bad news from Merseyside.
“We had chances to win this game in a clear way but for different reasons we couldn’t score and if you drop points here and the others win away it’s not a good game for us,” said Pellegrini before hearing the mixed news of Arsenal and Leicester’s results.
“But we have another 17 games and we have to keep playing like this. We did enough to win the game, especially in the second half. It was complete domination.”
Pellegrini was right on that count but in drawing at home for the first time this season and failing to record back-to-back league wins for the first time since August, City short-comings in attack when Sergio Aguero doesn’t score were again exposed.
Aguero was twice denied by goalkeeper Tim Howard in a one-sided second half before City were denied what Pellegrini was convinced should have been a penalty when Raheem Sterling went down under a challenge from John Stones in the last minute.
“The penalty was so clear, so near the referee. It was a clear foul but if the referee doesn’t whistle we can’t say anything,” Pellegrini added.
The teams will meet again in a fortnight to decide who goes to Wembley with City doubtless confident home advantage can help them overturn the deficit. But that victory at Goodison Park appeared to embolden an Everton side which more than matched City for the first half of in another wide-open game.
The early chances came the way of Pellegrini’s side as they looked to close the gap on Arsenal with former Liverpool winger Sterling, starting in place of David Silva in the ‘number 10’ position, releasing Kevin de Bruyne for a shot he poked wide.
Yaya Toure, rested for last Saturday’s FA Cup tie, then met a Bacary Sagna cross with a powerful header which was well saved by Tim Howard, justifying the faith of manager Roberto Martinez is restoring him to starting duty.
But Everton then showed their threat on the counter-attack, a recurring theme for the remainder of the first half. Joe Hart was forced to block Gerard Deulofeu’s angled effort before the winger tested City with his speed for the first time, forcing Nicolas Otamendi into a scrambled clearance at full stretch.
Romelu Lukaku’s pace and power was also a concern for Otamendi and Martin Demichelis, again deputising for the absent Vincent Kompany and Eliaquim Mangala, and with half an hour gone, Lukaku crossed for Leon Osman to go close to one of the finest goals of his long Everton career, sending a curling volley inches wide on his first Premier League start of the season.
Everton would not go so close again as Martinez’s chances of only a second win over City following on from a week ago and Wigan’s FA Cup final success in 2013 gradually receded along with the chance of only a second win in eight league games.
But he will have been delighted at how his side defended. Everton threw up a wall of blue shirts and when that line was breached, Howard was unbeatable. His best two saves were from Aguero, one from a volley and one when the Argentinian had just the keeper to beat.
Martinez must now decide whether to pick him again when Everton look for the repeat of the result in a fortnight’s time to reach Wembley.
Hart 6; Sagna 7, Demichelis 7, Otamendi 7, Clichy 7; Fernando 6, Toure 8; Navas 7, De Bruyne 7 (Silva 74), Sterling 8; Aguero 8.
Howard 8; Stones 6, Jagielka 6, Funes Mori 7, Baines 7; Osman 6 (Kone 70), Barry 7; Deulofeu 6 (Pienaar 70), Barkley 7, Besic 7; Lukaku 7.