An air of apprehension rather than the usual buoyant expectation fell over a packed Etihad Stadium…it always does when Everton come to town.
It’s illogical when you consider the calibre of the respective players of both teams, even more so, when you examine the budgets of the respective clubs.
Take a look at the team sheets and most City fans would take two of Everton’s best XI – Fellaini and Baines. Other than that, man-for-man City would, at least on paper, seem to have it covered.
So why, in God’s name, do just about ANY Everton side for over a decade, seem to get the better of City?
One look at the track record of this fixture both home and away – and the inherent nervousness of the Blue Mooners is all too easy to understand. City have won a miserly two of the last 11 meetings.
There was a time before Sheikh Mansour when City could cite half-a-dozen clubs as their bogey team, hence the perennial under achievement and, at best, mid-table mediocrity.
Fast forward to a blue side of Manchester, resplendent with the Premier League Champions flag fluttering over the jewel in the Abu Dhabi public relations crown, and still City can’t get the better of Moyes’ Merseysiders.
City fans aren’t used to seeing their heroes held at bay by domestic opposition. Fair to say they’ve been spoilt rotten for nearly two calendar years with 33 wins and now four draws since December 20th, 2010, when Everton – who else – took the three points with a hardly merited 2-1 win.
In truth Mancini’s men never really looked likely victors. Everton, to their credit came to play and even the most diehard City fan would agree a draw was an equitable outcome.
That said, pedantic Lee Probert delivered his usual highly questionable refereeing performance, constantly ‘blowing up’ for non-fouls by City, giving Everton an advantage and disrupting any possibility of the game flowing. The visitors were ’physical’ – Fellaini as ever – but ridiculously it was City the more penalised with 18 fouls against Everton’s ‘dirty dozen’.
Thankfully one of the 12 Everton infringements resulted in Tevez’ successful spot kick, after Dzeko was hauled down by the afro-haired Belgian colossus on the stroke of half-time.
It enabled City to draw level after falling behind to Fellaini’s 33rdminute opener. Leighton Baines whipped in a tantalising cross that skimmed off City skipper Kompany into his Belgian team mate’s flight path, who powered his header towards goal.
Joe Hart reacted brilliantly parrying the ball away, only to see the mop-haired marauder beat Zabaleta to the ball and knee it into the net.
A sense of foreboding was in the air and apart from a Tevez header forcing Tim Howard into a fine save, City carried comparatively little by way of threat.
Mancini had made five changes from the midweek win at Wigan drafting in Kolarov, Lescott, Nasri, Tevez and Dzeko for Zabaleta, Nastasic, Garcia, Aguero and Balotelli.
The Italian’s game plan wasn’t aided by the loss of Kolarov after just five minutes, adding to the injury woes affecting City’s back line.
Perversely, it is the misfiring Manchester City attack that sees them second in the table, as opposed to a few points clear at the top.
The quartet of Tevez, Dzeko, Aguero and Balotelli all saw action but none carried any clear and present danger to Howard’s goal.
An ill advised chorus of boos rang out when Tevez was substituted for Aguero, with many fans believing ‘Supersub’ Dzeko should have been pulled. Surely Mancini is to be accorded more trust and respect?
It reflected the mood of frustration on a bitterly cold afternoon but a bit of perspective would not go amiss. Everton are top four contenders this season – they’ve already beaten the hated Manchester United.
Speaking of which, City will go top next Sunday if they overcome the Salford snides whose defence continues to haemorrhage goals.
A big plus is the return to form of the magnificent Kompany and he would love nothing more than marshalling his men to a derby win and confounding the critics once again.