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Manchester City’s Manuel Pellegrini Makes Light Of Slip At Everton

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LONDON – Manuel Pellegrini shrugged off two dropped points as casually as one might alter the small print in Frank Lampard’s contract while Joe Hart joked with Romelu Lukaku before departing with a wave to a familiar face in the crowd.

“Been there, done that” was Manchester City’s relaxed message from a windswept Goodison Park but they know a defining period, with no further margin for error, is upon them.

City’s manager rued poor finishing more than the result although criticism of the champions’ profligacy seemed perverse on the day Sergio Agüero returned, given they averaged 2.29 goals per game during the Argentinian’s seven-match absence and with Wilfried Bony having agreed a £25m move from Swansea City. Equally, castigating Hart for his part in Everton’s merited equaliser should be offset by his two excellent saves that prevented Lukaku putting the home side ahead.

Lukaku clearly held Hart responsible for denying Everton a first league win in five matches, pointing an accusing finger at the England goalkeeper on the final whistle before the pair dissolved into laughter and an embrace. Tragically Lukaku returned to the dressing room to be told his close friend from the Belgium youth system, the 20-year-old Wolfsburg midfielder Junior Malanda, had been killed in a car accident in Germany. The striker was central to Everton’s improvement and Roberto Martínez will monitor anxiously the extent of Lukaku’s devastation.

For Pellegrini there was encouragement in City’s assured approach play, their diminishing injury list, the imminent addition of Bony to their attacking riches and even James Milner’s contract situation. “I hope James will sign his contract in the next few days,” he said of the utility player who missed this avoidable draw with a calf problem. Evidence of concern at falling two points behind Chelsea in the title race could not be found.

“We showed we had a lot of confidence in our play, we created the chances but the chances we missed was our problem,” Pellegrini said. “Last time we were stronger as the season went on and we are happy with the way we are playing so far. With all the players back we will be stronger in the second half of the season. Two points at this moment is not an important deficit or a real advantage.We will see if we can finish the season strongly and we will fight for the title until the last game.”

City’s next two league games, Arsenal at home and Chelsea away, may determine the calibre of that fight. David Silva was immaculate despite the constant shadow of his former team-mate Gareth Barry but Jesús Navas, Samir Nasri and Stevan Jovetic threatened only sporadically around him.

Jovetic worked tirelessly until being replaced by Agüero but was the main culprit as City squandered four inviting openings during a dominant first half.

That said, Joel Robles was rarely stretched in the Everton goal and Hart was the busier keeper. He twice thwarted Lukaku after the striker had turned Eliaquim Mangala inside out, was saved by the crossbar when Seamus Coleman’s shot beat him from 20 yards and by an offside flag against Steven Naismith when Phil Jagielka converted a Leighton Baines free-kick that the keeper dropped under pressure.

A 12th win in 14 matches beckoned for City when Fernandinho converted a close-range header, albeit after Pablo Zabaleta instigated the counterattack with a superb tackle on Lukaku that also dragged the ball on to an arm, but Naismith rewarded Everton’s intense second-half showing – with Muhamed Besic to the fore – four minutes later.

Hart failed to connect with another Baines free-kick, harshly awarded against Zabaleta, to allow the Scot to score a glancing header but the quality of the delivery was instrumental. Baines’ set-piece struggles this season were epitomised by one corner that led directly to a chance for Silva but this was the England left-back’s 45th Premier League assist, a record.

Hart said: “We want to be up there but there is plenty of time and we are in a really good position. We have still to play Chelsea and that is a really key game but Arsenal at home next week could be a big three points for us. We haven’t lost in the league since West Ham in October, have won the majority of those games and have been in good away form. We are on a good run, are in a good place and have plenty of players coming back ready for the second part of the season.

“Yaya Touré is in Africa doing what he has to do but we will get him back and hopefully be in a good place. We had Edin Dzeko, Sergio and Stevan all out for three games and it makes things tough when you are missing all your strikers but this is the Premier League, a tough league to be in, and we have no complaints about that. We have an amazing squad and those players are fit again.”

Man of the match Muhamed Besic (Everton) – The Guardian

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