Fatigued City stumble towards the finish line

MANCHESTER CITY are creeping, rather than marching, their way over the finish line.

A top-four target, which would secure Champions League football at Eastlands next season, has always been the aim.

It appears it will still happen, with Tottenham failing to capitalise on their defeat at Everton just hours later, to ensure the mantra set out by the mega-rich club’s Abu Dhabi’s rulers before the start of the season remains in their sights.

Their lead has marginally been reduced, rather than slashed, to six points.

Even though Harry Redknapp’s side can eat further into their deficit tomorrow, it appears City will hang on.

And for that Roberto Mancini will be grateful. Because just when it appears his FA Cup finalists are there, they slip up.

They shouldn’t have been surprised their pursuit suffered a setback against Everton.

The Toffees hold the Indian sign over Mancini’s side, securing their seventh win from their last eight meetings between the two teams.

But this was a case of a missed opportunity for Mancini. And he will know that.

It will be too much of a gamble to rest his players against Tottenham to hinder his preparations for next Saturday’s FA Cup final against Stoke City.

There’s no doubt a number of players need to be taken out of the firing line.

Because only jaded bodies, and tired minds could have been the reason for their downfall here after letting slip a commanding lead to somehow return home empty-handed.

“In this type of game you should close the game when you have a chance,” said the Manchester City manager. “I am not worried but I am disappointed because, if we had won this game it was finished, we could have prepared very well for the final.

“We have improved a lot this year, but we need to improve more because this situation cannot happen. I think that we are a strong team and we have lost a game we didn’t deserve to lose.

“But, in English football, if you don’t pay attention for 95 minutes and you don’t pay attention from the long ball in the box you can be punished.”

And they were. With Stoke manager Tony Pulis doing his homework by watching on ahead of Saturday’s final, he will have learned a thing or two.

Because despite Everton manager David Moyes labelling Manchester City as like an “NBA side”, in reference to their physique and height, two headed goals were the difference.

And for Stoke, who enjoy nothing more than an aerial bombardment, they will be licking their lips more than most.

Even without Carlos Tevez, who has been given a 50% chance of being fit for the final, Pulis must have been worried with what he saw at times.

But this sums up Manchester City; with the good, the bad and the ugly on show.

The good revolves around David Silva, whose pass saw Yaya Toure slide home the 28th-minute opener.

The bad came with some poor finishing that would have killed off an Everton side who had nothing but pride to play for, with Toure and Silva among the guilty players.

The ugly soon arrived. Sylvain Distin found room to nod in Mikel Arteta’s cross in the 65th minute before Leon Osman, the smallest player on the pitch, timed his run to perfection to loop home Phil Neville’s cross for the winner seven minutes later.

For Distin his day was in stark contrast to that of Joleon Lescott.

Lescott was jeered throughout by his former supporters having been criticised for his attitude as he engineered his acrimonious move to Eastlands in 2009.

Distin, from both sets of fans, received a different kind of reception and he claims this win was carved out by Everton’s team spirit.

“Even though it’s a completely different team and club from when I was there, it’s still a bit special for me,” said the French defender, who spent five years at City.

“But spirit is something that you can’t buy and you have to create with the players you’ve got.

“It’s something that’s been running through Everton for a long time. It’s not the style of the club or the manager to just take it easy now with two games left.”


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