EVERTON’S fine record at the City of Manchester stadium was ended by two second half goals that punctured an otherwise sterling defensive performance.
David Moyes’ men were left with scant reward for a master-class in the arts of stifling, as they repelled waves of attack from Roberto Mancini’s expensively assembled thoroughbreds.
Eventually though their lack of an attacking outlet, and the sheer quality of City’s forward players was compelling enough to yield an opening – even if it did come via a deflection from Phil Jagielka.
Cameos for Louis Saha, Apostolos Vellios and Royston Drenthe were not enough to snatch the point the Blues arguably looked like deserving. And when the superb David Silva dissected their rearguard with a pass that allowed sub James Milner to finish, Everton were finished.
It was harsh on the Toffees, who had largely dealt with the ever-mercurial Silva via a man-marking mission from Jack Rodwell.
The game began with some hope that Everton would be able to attack a little more frequently.
Leighton Baines’ right footed shot skewed wide after neat passing from the visitors, as the Blues looked to capitalise down their left.
But they were soon repelling danger, when Silva tricked past Rodwell and his low cross into area was blocked by Sylvain Distin. Then Samir Nasri’s long range drive went comfortably wide.
Then Yaya Toure picked up the ball on the edge of Everton’s area and slipped a short pass to Sergio Aguero in the box, who turned and seemed destined to test Tim Howard but blasted wide under pressure from Tony Hibbert.
Rodwell was booked on 20 minutes for catching Silva’s ankle as he challenged for the ball, with Howard Webb quick to protect the lithe Spaniard.
So it went, with Phil Neville next into the book – harshly after appearing guilty of nothing more than tangled legs with the playmaker who stayed down for an age before recovering with undue haste after his fellow professional had been carded.
Everton remained very narrow and compact, stopping City from playing through spaces, but dealing with most crosses.
But Tim Howard was forced into a fantastic diving save by Aguero with ten minutes of the half left, as City continued to dominate possession. And minutes later Dzeko tried his luck from 20 yards as City caught Everton on the break during a rare attack from the visitors.
Normal service was resumed as Aguero again twisted and turned inside the box, looked up and stroked an astute diagonal back to Gael Clichy who blasted wide. Everton were soaking up plenty of pressure, but defending manfully.
At least the Toffees had a shot after the restart, Leon Osman testing Joe Hart after exchanging passes with Baines and Coleman.
It was back to absorbing pressure for ten minutes then, until Tim Cahill nearly stuck the knife in when he just headed over on the break from Coleman’s cross.
A string of Everton corners ensued, as City were put in the unfamiliar position of being on the back foot
The natives began to get restless as a result, and frustration bubbled under on the field too. Vincent Kompany left his foot in and stamped on Cahill leaving the Aussie writhing in agony.
That injury was serious enough for Moyes to withdraw his talisman, and give Louis Saha a rare taste of league action.
Eventually, it took a slice of misfortune for Everton to be undone. Going nowhere across the area, Aguero passed back to lurking substitute Mario Balotelli whose side footed effort took a deflection off Jagielka on its way past Howard.
A flurry of City chances followed; Silva hit the post at the second attempt and then Balotelli volleyed narrowly wide from distance.
And after James Milner had sealed, events it was left for Saha to volley wide as Everton’s impressive travelling support headed for the M62.
EVERTON: (4-4-2) Howard, Hibbert, Jagielka, Distin, Baines, Neville (Capt) (Drenthe, 72), Osman, Rodwell, Fellaini, Coleman (Vellios, 80) Cahill (Saha, 65).
Subs not used: Mucha, Heitinga, Stracqualursi, Bilyaletdinov.
Bookings: Rodwell, Neville, Osman, Jagielka.
MANCHESTER CITY: (4-2-4) Hart, Richards, Lescott, Kompany (Capt), Clichy, Barry, Nasri (Savic, 83) Toure, Silva, Aguero (Milner, 78), Dzeko (Balotelli, 60).
Subs not used: Pantilimon, Zabaleta, Kolarov, Tevez.
Goals: Balotelli (68) Milner (89)
Ref: Howard Webb