Milestone in City journey
Published 25/09/2011 | 05:00
A mere £400m later, here was another milestone for Manchester City; they finally found a way to beat Everton.
In his previous meetings with the Goodison Park club, the closest Roberto Mancini had come to a cuddle was his wrestle with David Moyes as he attempted to retrieve the ball from the Everton manager during one of the Merseyside team's four straight victories here.
But there he was, midway through the second half, being embraced by Mario Balotelli after the Italian had come off the bench to finally prise open the most stubborn of Everton defences before James Milner added a second with a minute remaining.
After the frustration of the 1-1 Champions League draw with Napoli and losing a two-goal lead to draw at Fulham last weekend, it was a significant breakthrough that left even Balotelli, who normally 'celebrates' his goals like a man whose car has just failed its NCT, smiling.
"Mario didn't play for three or four games, but worked well and didn't say anything and waited for this moment. I enjoyed it for him. Now it's important that he continues to improve. [Some of] his behaviour is so-so, but he's a good guy, he likes Manchester City and English football and was really happy, Sometimes when he scores he's unhappy, but he knew that was an important goal," said Mancini.
Such has been the progress at the Etihad Stadium that they no longer covet the majority of the Everton team but, nonetheless, for much of this game it seemed that the visitors would manage yet another statement of defiance.
Once again Everton had Tim Cahill on his own in attack and, after they controlled possession for the opening 10 minutes, the Australian was frequently drawn deep into his own half to help his defence.
David Silva was followed around the pitch by Jack Rodwell and the result was that City were largely reduced to potshots, with Samir Nasri, Gareth Barry, Gael Clichy and Yaya Toure all trying their luck from distance, while a curling effort from Sergio Aguero forced Tim Howard's sole save of the first half.
Everton threatened after the break, but a glancing header by Cahill from Seamus Coleman's cross was their only real threat on goal.
Just as City looked unable to learn the lessons of the previous hour, Balotelli came on for Edin Dzeko. After a meandering run from Aguero the Argentine back-heeled for Balotelli, whose low shot through a crowd of bodies finally beat Howard to find the bottom corner.
Silva was denied by the post after that but the Spaniard then laid on a second goal, playing a trademark exquisite pass through for Milner to leave no doubt with just over a minute left.
Where in the past they might have been stifled, they had enough. "With the quality we have sometimes it's just a matter of patience and the goal will come. Maybe we didn't impress, but we did what we needed to do and it's another step forward," said Vincent Kompany, the City captain.
Mancini, whose team face Bayern Munich in the Champions League on Tuesday, was also more than happy with the resilience shown by his team. "It was difficult because we played very well and Everton defended all the game behind the ball. It wasn't easy for us to find a solution, but in the end we deserved to win and I'm very pleased with my players," the manager said.
Moyes, who claimed the Kompany challenge that left Cahill with a bruised shin was "terrible", could be similarly proud of the effort of his team and made no apologies for attempting to frustrate City.
"For long periods we kept them at bay. David Silva's a big part of what they do, the biggest part, and we did a good job on him," he said.
Moyes made no apology for the limited tactics, believing his team were badly done too when a throw-in he felt should have been in favour of his side went against them in the build-up to Balotelli's opener.
"I wasn't going to come here for the enjoyment of Manchester City," he said. "I was going to come here and do what was right for Everton. I have to praise the players for how they went about their task. They have done a lot of really good things."
Sunday Indo Sport