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Manchester City 1 Everton 1: Greg O’Keeffe’s verdict on the Blues well-earned point at the Etihad

THE question persists whether Everton are truly Champions League material. Even David Moyes is not yet fully convinced but at least Roberto Mancini seems certain.

Manchester City 1 Everton 1: Greg O’Keeffe’s verdict on the Blues well-earned point at the Etihad

THE question persists whether Everton are truly Champions League material. Even David Moyes is not yet fully convinced but at least Roberto Mancini seems certain.

On the eve of Everton’s trip to the Etihad stadium the City manager insisted the Blues have the quality to finish fourth – and after they took a well deserved point from his reigning Premier League title-holders he was even talking about the Blues in terms of a Champions League final.

Of course the later comment was a pompous dig from a manager nursing a bruised ego, but Mancini will know an afternoon when he was booed by his own fans for making a substitution could have been much worse.

If Lee Probert had not awarded a laughable penalty to the home side just before half time, there’s every chance the Toffees might have ended City’s two-year unbeaten run at home.

So forgive Mancini his strop and file it under further evidence that the Blues are really ruffling the feathers of the big boys this season.

City’s manager joins his curmudgeonly rival from across Manchester in having a dig at Everton after not getting things their own way.

Moyes’ men were unable to repeat the heroics of that victory over United in August, but in out-shining the champions on their home turf, for the first half at least, they gave their own self-belief exciting new impetus.

There are good points and bad points – with draw-specialists Everton experiencing the whole range of nuances in between during a campaign when they have now shared the spoils in eight of their 15 matches. But this impressive outing was certainly a positive to counter-balance the frustrations of Fulham and Norwich in November.

Traditionally the Blues are not even at the races as Christmas approaches, with their new year annual surge in form leaving a host of lingering-what ifs come May.

Last term it was the wishful-thinking argument that if the season started in January, Everton would have finished third.

This time around things are different. Even all those draws have not proven as damaging to Everton’s ambitions as they felt at the time, and the Blues are reasonably well-positioned.

Even as the season’s half-way stage approaches, the Premier League table remains formative and the Blues are only three points away from Chelsea in third place.

Granted, the fact they are also now only a point ahead of Stoke, with Liverpool and Arsenal breathing down their necks proves that nobody at Goodison should be getting too smug.

But consider this – have Everton really looked inferior to sides such as United, City, and Arsenal which usually make up the top four? Certainly not.

The only way they were lacking at the Etihad was in their desperate need for an ‘out ball’ when under pressure.

Nikica Jelavic’s form continues to fluctuate, although his work-rate remains at the required rate - but the Blues missed Kevin Mirallas or Victor Anichebe more than ever in the second half when City began to gain the upper-hand.

That spell was far removed from a first half when the visitors took the game to their opponents, proving that they were intent on far more than containment.

Last season Moyes used Jack Rodwell on a man-marking mission to stifle David Silva at the Etihad, but this time he instructed his players to focus more on making City worry about them.

With Leon Osman and Darron Gibson out-shining their expensively assembled counterparts in midfield, and the indomitable Leighton Baines causing havoc, Everton were good value for their lead.

Marouane Fellaini notched his eighth goal of the season after he met another perfect cross from the England full-back and twisted in the air to steer a powerful header towards goal.

Joe Hart made a fine save but was powerless to prevent the towering Belgian from bundling the rebound over the line with his knee.

Fellaini was in the thick of it again just before the break when City got their controversial leveller. It was Edin Dzeko’s tumble after routine jostling between the pair which Probert somehow seemed to believes constituted a spot-kick.

The same hands-on marking happens every weekend in games up and down the country without resulting in penalties, so Moyes was entitled to feel aggrieved that his side were once again left to rue a baffling call from an official.

Carlos Tevez made no mistake from the spot, and his side came out determined to knock the stuffing out of Everton in the second half.

But Everton soaked up everything a side containing several individuals of exceptional attacking ability could muster and came back at them.

Tim Howard made a strong save from Maicon’s stinging drive and did well to stop a Tevez header, but the Blues were resilience personified as Phil Jagielka contributed his usual string of blocks and tackles to limit City’s intent. Indeed with time running out it was Everton on the front foot, and Joe Hart could only parry Jelavic’s well-struck free-kick.

Only one side took anything from the Etihad last season, and Everton became just the second to avoid defeat there this time around.

This Blues team has a happy habit of matching the supposed best – and they’re certainly tough to beat. An added dash of goal-scoring zest to help them rediscover the winning habit would be the perfect early festive gift.

 

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