Tuesday 16 January 2018

Mancini struck dumb as City's title talk silenced

Everton 2 Man City 0

Graham Chase

Roberto Mancini was too angry to speak after seeing Manchester City's title hopes all but extinguished yesterday.

City had the chance to put pressure on Manchester United ahead of the leaders' meeting with Reading last night but fell behind to a Leon Osman goal and, after Steven Pienaar was sent off, the champions were denied a clear penalty before conceding a late second to Nikica Jelavic.

Referee Lee Probert gave City a free-kick apparently for Marouane Fellaini handling a Carlos Tevez shot well inside the area. But Mancini will presumably be just as disappointed with his team's ragged and lifeless performance, and the Italian headed down the tunnel before the final whistle.

Since United extended their advantage at the top of the table to 12 points with a 2-0 win over Everton in February, a day like this was guaranteed to come at some point.

It was not the kind of unravelling that led to City being trounced 3-1 at Southampton last month but it was utterly lifeless and rudderless from a team who were supposed to retain some belief that they could retain their title. Asked what had upset Mancini, first-team coach David Platt said: "Just the whole afternoon. There's a frustration and an anger at the way the game has gone."

Seven days on from a humbling 3-0 FA Cup quarter-final defeat that left Everton reeling and David Moyes's side facing an uphill battle to secure European football, City were always going to be facing a testing afternoon but they simply could not match the desire of the home side.

A visiting fan, dressed in the full away kit, attempted to warm up with the City players before the game and as Mancini later looked behind at his bench to see how he could change things, he might have been tempted to send one of his coaching staff to find the supporter, who would probably have been willing to cover more ground than Edin Dzeko. "Our performance wasn't at it and we got outplayed in large spells," Platt said.

"Nobody's been shouting from the rooftops saying we are chasing United down. They've got a significant points advantage over us, even if we'd won. We have an obligation to try and win matches and be professional."

That was something they failed to fulfil for a pivotal opening hour at Goodison Park, although the hosts had little to show for their early graft other than a Kevin Mirallas effort that was ruled out for offside. Again standing in for the injured Tim Howard, Everton goalkeeper Jan Mucha denied Carlos Tevez and Dzeko as the visitors produced a hint of a threat.

But they trailed just after the half-hour when Ireland's Seamus Coleman clipped a pass infield and Osman's left-foot shot flew into the top corner with Joe Hart motionless.

Victor Anichebe thumped over from close range shortly after and Tevez went close just before the break, during which Mancini was deep in conversation with Probert as they headed down the tunnel.

City did not improve particularly after the interval but were given a major opportunity when Pienaar, who had been booked for a challenge on Gareth Barry, was shown a second yellow card for catching Javi Garcia on the thigh. Unlucky not to get a penalty when Fellaini handled, the visitors finally flickered and Mucha, who claimed not to read his mail before being given 250 hours of community service for driving while banned last week, was unbeatable at the back.

As City threw men forward in added time, Fellaini broke away and fed substitute Jelavic, whose shot looped up off Gael Clichy and over Hart for his first league goal since December.


Irish Independent

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