Baines crushes City's hopes of festive top spot
Man City 1
For seasoned Manchester City fans, this must have felt wearyingly typical. Everything was going so well, with Christmas on top of the tree beckoning, with Carlos Tevez withdrawing his transfer request. And then this.
Everton were a team, City a collection of individuals. The visitors swept into an early lead through Tim Cahill and Leighton Baines, Victor Anichebe was dismissed for two cautionable offences and then Phil Jagielka conceded an own goal. Tevez ran hard but Everton, for whom Marouane Fellaini was particularly immense, held firm.
After the best of news, City had endured the worst of starts, shipping two goals within 20 minutes. When Everton began pushing down the left, Fellaini and Leon Osman working the ball to the outstanding Baines, City should still have dealt with the danger.
Mancini has instilled good defensive habits in his players. To the Italian's frustration, his defenders switched off. As Baines' cross curled in, Anichebe leapt with Vincent Kompany and the ball flew on, apparently destined for a goal-kick. So City thought. Everton never gave up the chase, particularly Seamus Coleman. Baines' delivery had spin on it, landing on the byline, staying in and met by Coleman. Aleksandar Kolarov turned his back as Coleman angled the ball into Cahill.
Kompany had moved out, fearing Coleman might cut the ball back to Jack Rodwell, who was lurking on the edge of the area. So Cahill, unmarked and dangerous, had all the time he needed to meet Coleman's clipped cross with a firm header past Joe Hart. City's keeper was furious, stunned at his defence's ineptness.
The hosts sought to respond but they badly missed the suspended Nigel de Jong. James Milner and Gareth Barry could not live with the high-tempo pressing of Marouane Fellaini or the movement of Cahill. Baines was marvellous down the left, a font of defensive defiance and source of attacking promise.
Starting only two points above the drop zone, Everton were scrapping for their lives, proving far sharper than City, far hungrier.
Everton's commitment was total. Cahill rose determinedly to meet an aerial ball, catching Pablo Zabaleta on the side of the head. City's right-back struggled on, then disappeared for treatment and how Everton exploited his eight-minute absence.
Racing in from the flank usually patrolled by Zabaleta, Baines had only one mission in mind. Baines has been in terrific form of late, prompting talk linking him to wealthier clubs, but even the left-back's most ardent admirers would not have anticipated the thunder about to erupt from his right boot for Everton's second.
The move was begun by Anichebe, driving the ball from the left in towards Cahill, whose cushioned touch teed up Baines. City were shocked, and probably a few Everton fans too, as Baines drilled a magnificent right-foot shot past the diving, despairing Hart. As Mancini went into meltdown in the dug-out, the visitors celebrated raucously.
Tevez began scampering around but kept running into Fellaini. Everton had the lead but City had the ball. Kolarov unleashed a free-kick pushed wide by Tim Howard. Tevez tried to wriggle through but Fellaini nicked the ball off him like. Jagielka then dived in to clear ahead of Yaya Toure. David Silva, one of four City snood-wearers, then let fly, his shot catching Phil Neville's hand but referee Peter Walton waved play on.
The referee was the focus of more attention in the second half. He first cautioned Anichebe, who had followed through on Hart, although seemed to be turning his back to soften the impact. Hart didn't seem troubled but Walton was not in a mood for clemency. When Anichebe, naively, then caught Zabaleta, Walton brandished a second caution. Anichebe sloped off, having wasted a rare chance to impress Moyes.
City fans craved somebody to pick up the gauntlet. Adam Johnson had come on at the break, as Mancini finally responded to the lack of width. City again had most possession. Everton were defending deeper and deeper, City fans getting louder and louder. Barry volleyed over.
But City's pressure told. Johnson did well, exchanging passes with Silva before setting up Yaya Toure, whose low shot clipped Jagielka and found the net.
Only the post and Howard denied City an equaliser with 13 minutes left. Mario Balotelli lifted the ball over the Everton 'keeper but his effort hit the post. Howard reacted quicker than Balotelli, muscling the striker out of the way to nick the loose ball away and then doing brilliantly to block Tevez's shot. Seconds from the end Kolo Toure was sent off for his second yellow card of the evening. (© Daily Telegraph, London)