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Sobering result for Mancini ahead of Cup clash

WEALTH is a powerful shield against reality, but some context was forcibly restored to Manchester City's season on Saturday. Defeat confirmed what everyone suspected -- that Roberto Mancini's impressive start was not an instant improvement magicked by the arrival of a man who knows the importance of a warm neck in winter.

Everton were the first genuinely tricky opponents whom City had faced since Mark Hughes was sacked last month and the test was flunked, to their manager's obvious frustration on the touchline. Scarves: fashion accessories or handy weapons with which to strangle underperforming Brazilian mercenaries? The manager's decision to substitute Robinho in the 61st minute - the forward had come on as a replacement for the injured Roque Santa Cruz in the ninth minute - was a dramatic vote of no confidence.

Despite that ruthless, brave and intolerant switch, Mancini did not criticise Robinho. The forward had, after all, tried. He even attempted a few blocks but was as ineffective as most of his team-mates.

Robinho can't return to form by embracing the virtues of hard work and discipline. He is a dissolute genius. A Robinho stripped of his superiority complex may be the problem, not the solution. He needs to rediscover his arrogance, not learn to "mix it".

It was strange to bring on Robinho, when Benjani Mwaruwari, a more comparable forward to Santa Cruz, was available. The choice told us something about Mancini's ambitions. "I thought that if we played the ball on the floor, Robinho could have been a big player for us," he said.

The aim was to pass their way past Everton, to overcome energy with elegance. It was naive, but with four successive wins and one goal conceded in his first month, such optimism was understandable. But Everton would have beaten just about anyone, with the guile of Landon Donovan and Steven Pienaar blending with a fierce collective energy that squelched most City attacks at birth.

The visiting team were hunted down and trapped as soon as they advanced beyond halfway. Marouane Fellaini was the shining symbol of Everton's work ethic. The defensive midfield player produced a display of controlled aggression and towering self-assurance that even featured a pirouette past Craig Bellamy worthy of a prima ballerina.

This felt more than scrappy underdogs tweaking the noses of rich kids. As Everton's injury list shortens, so should their distance from the top six.

Both goals came in the first half. Pienaar scooped a free-kick over a wall suffering from acute subsidence and a penalty was awarded just before the break when Micah Richards tugged back Louis Saha, who converted from the spot -- although first contact was made outside the box.

Sobering for City, but the timing was right. Better for Mancini to learn his side's faults before the Carling Cup semi-final, first leg against Manchester United than during it.


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