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Mancini's City come unstuck

Manchester City's top-four credentials were put into perspective by a team that knows how hard breaking into the Champions League elite can be.

Roberto Mancini suffered his first defeat as City manager at the hands of an Everton side apparently determined to prove that no one is impressed by mere money and that the Italian's apparently effortless glide into fourth place was simply the result of a friendly run of fixtures.

City found no friends here. All they needed was a point to stay ahead of Spurs, but they never looked like scoring despite making three attacking substitutions, the most significant of which may have been replacing Robinho with Shaun Wright-Phillips for the last half hour.

A substitute himself, Robinho was granted almost an hour to show Mancini what he could do, and showed precisely nothing.

With Carlos Tevez and Craig Bellamy also anonymous, City were exposed in attack and defence by a spirited Everton, for whom Marouane Fellaini was again outstanding. Everton could and probably should have won by more.

Mancini will now know how England usually feel at World Cups, early optimism and confidence melting away when the first decent opponents show up.

Perhaps concerned that City were making no impression going forward, Mancini began warming up Benjani on the half hour, but the substitute was still doing stretches on the touchline when Everton took the lead. A rash challenge by Pablo Zabaleta gave the home side a free-kick just outside the City area and, after a brief discussion with Leighton Baines about who should take it, Steven Pienaar expertly dinked a shot over the wall that beat Given low at his right-hand post.

City complained long and hard about the penalty awarded against Micah Richards in stoppage-time, yet replays clearly showed he had pulled Louis Saha back by the shirt. He may have started the foul outside the box, but he was still doing it inside the penalty area when the linesman spotted the offence, so City have no real grounds for grumbling. Saha did not waste any time, once the protests had died down, in beating Given from the spot.

Mancini finally made his second substitution at half-time, withdrawing the ineffective Martin Petrov for Benjani and moving Robinho out to the left wing.

Then he took the Brazilian off altogether, to predictable jeers from home fans who have never seen a £32m player, and from the sound of it reckon they still haven't.

Sunday Independent