THIS may have been the day Robinho got his swagger back, but it was Stephen Ireland who left Goodison Park glowing.
The 22-year-old scored the second goal in the 2-1 victory – City’s first away from home since August 31 – to cap yet another impressive performance.
Manchester City manager Mark Hughes was delighted with the result, only their second win outside Eastlands this season and their first at Everton for nearly 17 years.
But it was the displays by Ireland and Robinho which most delighted the Welshman.
“Stephen Ireland has had a fantastic season and from our point of view he is the best young player this season,” said Hughes.
“He has 13 goals now (nine in the league), which is an outstanding return for a midfield player in the Premier League and we are very pleased with his performance. Stephen is still hitting the levels he was at the start of the season.”
Ireland’s 54th-minute goal came just as Everton seemed to be getting a foothold in the game and it owed as much to Robinho’s vision as it did to the midfielder’s lung-busting run to the edge of the penalty area. When Felipe Caicedo laid off to Robinho wide on the left just over the halfway line there appeared to be little danger.
However, four Everton players were drawn to the Brazilian, who spotted Ireland’s run into the space behind the defence and picked him out to leave the former City academy player with plenty of time to control and shoot past Tim Howard.
Robinho showed similar composure in the first half when he collected Elano’s first-time pass to go past Phil Jagielka and fire through Howard’s legs.
“Stephen has been doing that all year,” said Hughes.
“His understanding of the game and when to join in from deep positions – he joins in the play with pace and is difficult to track because he has such energy — means opposition teams can’t track him each and every time. He has had a major impact on how we play.”
City defender Micah Richards claims there is no rift with manager Mark Hughes after reports of a training ground bust-up.
“What happened was blown out of all proportion,” said Richards.“There’s absolutely no problem between me and the gaffer.’’
“We’re both winners and want the club to progress and be successful. It was more passion than anything, and was a misunderstanding.’’
Everton, visibly fatigued by their exertions after beating Manchester United on penalties in the FA Cup semi-final and securing a goalless draw at Chelsea, struggled to find a response to going 2-0 down.
They were hampered by having to play the last 20 minutes with 10 men when, with all three substitutes used, Jagielka’s season was ended by a ruptured anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee.
Substitute Dan Gosling scored a late consolation but even seven minutes of injury time were not enough to salvage a point.
EVERTON (4-5-1): Howard 6, Hibbert 6, Yobo 6, Jagielka 6, Baines 7, Osman 5, Neville 6, Castillo 5 (Gosling 60, 6), Pienaar 7, Fellaini 6 (Cahill 60, 6), Saha 5 (Vaughan 60, 5).
Subs Not Used: Nash, Lescott, Rodwell, Baxter.
MANCHESTER CITY (4-4-2): Given 7, Richards 6 (Fernandes 57, 5), Onuoha 6, Dunne 7, Bridge 6, De Jong 6, Kompany 6, Elano 7 (Evans 88, 6), Ireland 8, Robinho 8, Caicedo 6 (Petrov 84, 5).
Subs Not Used: Hart, Bojinov, Garrido, Berti.
REFEREE: Alan Wiley (Staffordshire) 7: Kept the game flowing and only intervened when he had to.
MATCH RATING: *** One of City’s happy days, all sunshine and Samba football. Everton looked tired.
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