United reject Gibson stuns Manchester City
Everton 1-0 Manchester City: The defences laid in place by Everton have always seemed one of the more unbreachable obstacles on Manchester City's journey to world domination, and never were the wirecutters needed more than last night.
They were, in fact, unearthed to sort out the game's most bizarre moment – when a fan handcuffed himself to a goalpost – but City could not lay hold of them and Roberto Mancini was given another reminder of the long road ahead towards the title.
"They fight for every ball, it is not enough to have good players," Mancini said before the match, and that was pretty much the epitaph for a night which deconstructed once again the class divide between a home side who had sweated on a £5.5m new striker and a visiting side desperate to sell a player who earns that sum in less than three months. The battle was won in midfield by Marouane Fellaini, the player David Moyes compared to Yaya Touré on Monday as he spoke of his world class.
However, and appropriately, the game was won by Darron Gibson, a player deemed inadequate for the battle of Manchester's giants but gathered up from the cutting-room floor by Moyes, the alchemist-manager whose fifth win in six over Mancini left City's lead from United, Gibson's old team, cut to mere goal difference last night.
Moyes said before the sides' meeting in Manchester last autumn that he felt like a combatant going into "a gunfight armed with a knife", and this didn't feel too much different, even though yesterday's signing from Rangers, the Croat Nikica Jelavic, had arrived fresh from a local hotel room. He was scrubbed up to be presented as, hopefully, the biggest gift Glasgow's blue half has bestowed on Gwladys Street since Duncan Ferguson arrived 18 years ago.
Louis Saha, the player with more shots on and off target than any other of Moyes' players this season, was in the throes of a deadline day, on-off move to Tottenham, and that said everything about Everton's resources up front. Moyes' selection didn't look full of defensive ammunition either – City's Edin Dzeko and his stand-in shadow, Tony Hibbert, provided a comical mismatch in size – while the average age of the Everton bench was not much more than 19. So much for the fabled "grand old team".
Moyes went into the game clutching at a grain of hope, that City's powers of annihilation have receded a little. When Denis Stracqualursi stooped to meet a Royston Drenthe cross which looped over City's box after five minutes, it needed Joleon Lescott to head the ball off the line. Stracqualursi did not even cut it with the City manager three times removed – Sven Goran Eriksson was not too impressed with him when at Leicester – though here he embodied the work ethic which had restricted City to one win in 13 at this stadium.
Blue-collar work, however, was the best that Everton had to savour, until Jelavic appeared on the pitch at half-time. In a first half which intermittently exposed the class differential, Drenthe's badly misplaced pass seemed to have undone Moyes' players' doughty resistance. David Silva seized on it and launched a 30-yard pass which Sergio Aguero took down. After cutting inside Hibbert he fired narrowly wide of the left post. Ten minutes later, Dzeko laid a short pass into the path of Samir Nasri, who unfurled a swerving right-foot shot from 30 yards – it thudded against the bar.
Everton's esprit de corps was unmistakeable – there were high fives when Fellaini, a threat, volleyed narrowly wide from a header that Tim Cahill laid into his path. But Everton showed their greatest intent when the pitch invader apparently chained himself to Joe Hart's left post at the Park End. Drenthe, Cahill and Phil Neville all contributed brain power to the question of how he might be removed, but it took the forces of law and order to provide the necessary cutting edge.
City know that they have battles ahead. The next phase of the tortuous disciplinary procedures involving Carlos Tevez will provide one. Tevez appealed to the Premier League against the £9.3m fines City have hit him with, just 15 minutes before the midnight deadline on Monday night. But sides like Everton are the more significant obstacle and the way they scored, in a classic, counter-attacking move on the hour, showed what City will be up against between now and May.
Aguero's drive through to goal had just been stopped when the ball was cleared up to Drenthe, who raced through City's vacant midfield. He found Landon Donovan, who laid the ball into the path of Gibson to open his goalscoring account for Everton with one of the rasping shots he had made his trademark at United, helped by a deflection. The shake of Mancini's head told of his displeasure at the space all three Everton men had been allowed.
Gibson was granted the space to send in another volley 10 minutes later, when Stracqualursi's cross, following foraging work down City's right, was headed into his path. City felt they should have had a penalty 15 minutes from time – it was a reasonable shout – when the substitute Aleksandar Kolarov crossed hard into the crook of Neville's arm.
But it was rejected and Everton might have extended the lead as they countered again, had Stracqualursi's cross from the right found Donovan, who was lurking. City pushed for an equaliser, though they mustered only three shots on goal all night. They will have to dig far deeper than this to take a Premier League title.
Substitutes: Everton - Baxter (Drenthe, 78), Vellios (Stracqualursi, 88). Man City - Johnson (Milner, 62), Kolarov (Lescott, 68), De Jong (Barry, 86) .
Booked: Everton - Drenthe. Man City - Kompany, Lescott.
Man of the match Fellaini.
Possession: Everton 43% Man City 57%.
Attempts on target: Everton 4 Man City 11.
Referee P Walton (Northants).