Everton as an organization took a lot of flak this week. David Moyes bore the brunt of it as his side went crashing out of the FA Cup quarters with Wembley in sight. The players put in an insipid performance in that game with star Marouane Fellaini substituted to a chorus of boos. Then captain Phil Neville drew criticism from the fanbase for appearing to say that the club need to be satisfied with a top ten finish. In between all that Stan Collymore decided to play an investigative journalist by posing a few probing questions to a 'representative' of the organization which laid bare some of chairman Bill Kenwright's hyperbole and how bleak the situation facing Everton really is.
Fast forward to Saturday afternoon, and after the game against Manchester City. Moyes mentioned in his postgame comments that he would have been very surprised had Everton not come out firing on all cylinders today after last week’s Cup fiasco. There really could not have been a better way for Moyes to mark his eleventh year at Goodison Park than beating his favourite whipping boy Roberto Mancini, and his side responded much like last year's 4-4 fightback at Old Trafford soon after that crushing Wembley loss to the Red half of city. Indeed, rumors of his side’s demise have indeed been greatly exaggerated.
This year's City are not quite the same side that pushed and then finally overhauled a suspect Manchester United last season. The current iteration of the Citizens is more frail and likely to get bogged down in midfield, while the defence is equally capable of solid clean sheets as they are of going on walks in the park with Mary Poppins. That and the fact Mancini’s dreams are fraught with visions of him scrubbing his hands awash in Royal Blue, screaming like Lady Macbeth, because a quarter of the points he has dropped in his tenure at City has been at the hands of Everton.
So who else had a nightmare of a game apart from Aleksandar Kolarov? Referee Lee Probert, that's who. The official decided he wanted to be a part of this fixture early on, brandishing yellows as he attempted to restrain a ferocious Everton and a resolute City. The assistant on the far side earned a whole load of derision from the stands when he wrongly ruled out Kevin Mirallas’ excellent strike just a quarter of an hour into the game. City were well and truly on the back foot in the half as Everton charged forward, Leon Osman and Steven Pienaar unleashing the pair of Leighton Baines with deft through passes and Seamus Coleman with slaloming runs. Coleman in particular made a mockery of Kolarov on the left wing, as the plucky Irishman tormented the Serb as well as Matija Nastasic, both pressed into emergency left-sided duty with Yaya Toure’s late withdrawal due to illness.
Everton finally made the breakthrough in the thirty-first minute as man of the match Coleman laid off a pass for a centrally-positioned Osman to hammer home with his weaker left foot. His 30-yarder was hit with such venom that it swung like a cheap rubber ball as it swerved wickedly away from Joe Hart but in at the left post, leaving the England goalie rooted to his spot. Surely Shane Warne would have been pleased with how that ball ripped away. The Blues continued to threaten with an obstruction call on Fellaini in the box waved away, and the visitors went in at halftime lucky to be down just one.
The second half started with City showing they wouldn’t give up their title without some sort of a struggle, a cause greatly aided when the ref showed Pienaar his second yellow of the game. While it was no doubt a foul, Javi Garcia went down and then proceeded to roll around like he had been shot by a sniper perched atop the Bullens Road stand. The home crowd then really stepped in though, their voices collectively acting as the missing eleventh man as they howled at every transgression and roared the Blues on. The last half an hour followed a pattern: City playing narrow and losing possession outside the Everton box, the Toffees then running down and holding up the ball to win a futile corner, which was promptly sent upfield for the Citizens to pass about laterally until the next turnover.
Ref Probert wasn’t done though, his eagle-eyes spotting Osman’s arm faintly brushing the ball outside the box before it hit Fellaini’s elbow plumb inside the box. No penalty awarded, and the resultant freekick didn't even clear the wall. Tying the game this way would have been brutal for the home side, and a replica of what happened earlier in the season at the Etihad. Instead the out-of-form Nikica Jelavic came on as a late substitute and scored his first since December with aplomb to end the game and City’s title comeback hopes. There were some rumbles of discontent when the starting lineup was announced with Victor Anichebe replacing Jelavic in the side, but the powerful Nigerian stood up City's tank Kolo Toure and in many cases got the better of the Ivorian too.
This match report would be amiss without a mention of two often vilified Everton players who both put in solid shifts yesterday and need to be commended. John Heitinga has lost more points than he has gained for the Blues this season, but this time he was instrumental in the three points. Alternating between Carlos Tevez and Edin Dzeko, he was strong in the air and quick on his feet and kept both strikers quiet. The other is the forgotten man of Premier League football Jan Mucha. As backup to the dependable Tim Howard, the Slovak goalie has rarely played and often looks rusty when on the pitch. Yesterday however he got better after a shaky start, claiming crosses and throwing himself around to block narrow angle shots the few times City broke through the back four.