Balotelli 68, Milner 89
Goals from Mario Balotelli and James Milner helped Manchester City overcome a determined Everton side and keep up their challenge at the top of the Premier League. The pair came off the substitutes’ bench to breach an Everton backline that had held out for over an hour.
City named the same side that threw away a two-goal lead at Fulham a week earlier, while Phil Neville came into the starting line-up for the visitors after sitting out the last two league games, replacing Diniyar Bilyaletdinov. With Neville in the centre of midfield, Leon Osman moved to the left wing and Marouane Fellaini pushed forward to support Tim Cahill in attack.
The opening was perhaps as cagey as would have been expected. Everton’s hard-working midfield restricted space for their City counterparts to play, the nominal strike partnership of Cahill and Fellaini each dropping deep to further clog up the centre of the pitch. So tight was Everton’s marking that Jack Rodwell became David Silva’s shadow, while Phil Jagielka was often seen following Edin Dzeko into the centre circle. The only outfield City players not under constant supervision were the centre-backs Vincent Kompany and Joleon Lescott.
Everton’s man-marking of Silva was threatened partway through the first-half, when in quick succession both Rodwell and Neville picked up bookings for fouls on the Spaniard, leaving the two walking a tight rope for the rest of the game. Osman became the third Everton player in the book while Yaya Toure also saw yellow as a fixture that has thrown up more than its share of incident in recent years – spiked by the switch between the clubs of Lescott – threatened to boil over. By the point the half-time whistle sounded the game had seen more yellow cards than clear cut chances.
The second-half began much like the first, a tight affair with City doing most of the pressing forward but Everton standing firm. Everton did have what, in this game, passed for a decent opportunity when Cahill met Seamus Coleman’s centre but could only head over the bar and soon forced a succession of corners without seriously threatening Joe Hart’s goal. Roberto Mancini responded by replacing the ineffective Dzeko with Balotelli while David Moyes was forced into a change when Cahill injured himself challenging Kompany. Louis Saha came on to replace the Australian.
Of the two substitutes it was City’s that had the more immediate impact. Balotelli broke the deadlock with a deflected effort from the edge of the penalty area following Aguero’s lay-off, and, having finally taken the lead, City rarely looked like giving it up, and, in fact, doubled it before full-time. Milner replaced Aguero as Mancini tried to shore up the slender lead but it was the England midfielder who doubled the advantage, after Silva latched on to a misplaced Drenthe pass and played in the former Aston Villa star, who rolled the ball past Howard as City’s dominance of the game was finally reflected in the score.
Man City (4-2-3-1): Hart; Richards, Kompany, Lescott, Clichy; Toure, Barry; Silva, Aguero (Milner 78), Nasri (Savic 84); Dzeko (Balotelli 60)
Everton (4-4-1-1): Howard; Hibbert, Jagielka, Distin, Baines; Coleman (Vellios 81), Neville (Drenthe 73), Rodwell, Osman; Fellaini; Cahill (Saha 66)
Did you know… Prior to this result, City had failed to beat Everton at home in their last four attempts.