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Steven Naismith Earns A Point For Everton As They Foil Manchester City

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LONDON – Everton picked up their first point in five games to frustrate Manchester City’s attempts to keep pace with Chelsea at the top of the table, coming back from a goal behind to claim a draw that must have felt almost as welcome as a victory. At least Roberto Martínez’s much maligned defence can start to feel good about itself again, for despite a wealth of possession City were unable to break the Everton backline down.

With Sergio Agüero only coming on for the last 20 minutes, and then looking predictably rusty, City were not at their sharpest yet the home side still deserved credit for sticking to their task and finishing the stronger.

“Once they scored we upped the tempo and looked really strong at the end,” Martínez said. “It was a great reaction and a really positive performance. We allowed City too much space in the first half, even though we defended our area well. When they scored I thought it must have been offside because I couldn’t see two players behind Joel Robles, but having seen replays I must congratulate the linesman in getting his decision spot on.”

Manuel Pellegrini thought the game should have been put to bed long before then, and he had a point. Everton spent most of the first period in their own half of the field, defending on the edge of their area as City waited patiently for David Silva to find a way through. It seemed only a matter of time before the close control and deft passing of the Spain forward set up a colleague with a scoring opportunity, yet in the absence of Agüero and Edin Dzeko City seemed to lack anyone with the nous to find the space Silva was looking to exploit.

Stevan Jovetic shot too high from a Silva invitation after nine minutes, then Jesús Navas missed an even more presentable opportunity after a Phil Jagielka mistake had given Silva time in which to operate, but in 45 minutes of trying City never actually forced Robles to make a save. Everton’s reserve goalkeeper betrayed nerves when he got away with a poor clearance just four minutes into the game, yet half-time arrived without City putting him properly to the test.

The visitors would have felt even more sheepish had they turned around a goal behind, which they almost did when Everton finally managed an attack worthy of the name on the stroke of the interval. Muhamed Besic, who was beginning to annoy the home crowd by constantly passing sideways and occasionally into touch, played a ball forward for once and allowed Seamus Coleman to put Romelu Lukaku clear on goal. Joe Hart came out smartly to spread himself and save the shot, and when the ball came back to Coleman, still in his original position, the full-back struck the bar from 25 yards.

While Everton would hardly have deserved an interval lead, it was a reminder of how wasteful City were being with almost limitless possession.

The second half began in exactly the same way, with Silva attempting a one-two with Samir Nasri in the area only for the latter to miscontrol the return. Then Ross Barkley sent Lukaku away down the left and Hart had to make another save.

As the hour approached City were dominating the game but Everton were two up in terms of attempts on target. After exactly an hour City did manage to force Robles into action, though it was only a routine punch to clear a Nasri shot from a free-kick. Pellegrini sent Agüero on shortly after that, the striker returning just in time to see Jagielka find the net from a Leighton Baines free-kick, an effort disallowed because Steven Naismith was offside.

After waiting over 70 minutes for a goal Goodison was treated to one at either end in quick succession. A magnificent tackle by Pablo Zabaleta on Lukaku freed Fernandinho to set up the first, the Brazilian turning up on the line to head home after Robles had managed to block when Silva looked certain to score. The paucity of chances previously led to the suspicion that one goal might settle the contest, but Everton were having none of that. Baines flighted in a diagonal cross from a free-kick, one that Hart thought he could reach but realised too late he could not, and Naismith read the situation perfectly in getting to the ball first to glance a header past the goalkeeper.

Hart will judge himself harshly – he came for the ball and did not get it – and the two dropped points could be important at the end of the season. Yet oddly, in the overall context of the game, Hart was the busier of the two goalkeepers, and but for his two saves from Lukaku City might have lost all the points. “We came up with the best chances of the game,” Martínez said, truthfully. While City should function better with Agüero restored to fitness, this game was perfect demonstration of why they are being linked with Wilfried Bony. – The Guardian

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