Steven Naismith conjures up Everton's soothing balm to render Sergio Agüero impotent
Everton held Manchester City in the Premier League to derail City's title ambitions.
Perhaps Manchester City will reflect upon this draw as a missed opportunity, as a crucial lapse in an enthralling Premier League title race. Manuel Pellegrini’s men had managed 17 shots, in contrast to Everton’s 9. They had enjoyed 61% of the possession, commanding over Everton’s mere 39%. They had manoeuvred the most attractive chances, creative and innovative, yet all of the aforementioned were rendered, ultimately, irrelevant/
Pellegrini’s sense of rue, though, will be further exacerbated by Chelsea’s triumph over Newcastle United. Even when Everton threatened, even when Romelu Lukaku shimmered with a menace so bright that he represented Everton’s principal attacking force, the Chilean remained focused on three points, imploring his men to attack and playing his valuable cards in Sergio Aguero and Frank Lampard as full-time rapidly approached.
Steven Naismith will cherish his lasting influence on the title race. Everton had pushed for the equaliser, stretching every sinew as Roberto Martinez’s men strived to produce the antidote, the response, to Fernandinho’s opener minutes earlier. The Gwladys Street End had grown anxious, their concern of their club’s sharp descent down the Premier League table considerably spiked.
Perhaps Pellegrini will point the finger at his porous defence. Naismith had been inexplicably left to beat the onrushing Joe Hart to the ball, directing his header into the subsequently empty goal. There was a hint of offside, yet it does not detract from Martin Demichelis’s distracted concentration, letting Naismith challenge.
David Silva did not merit to be on the losing side. The Spaniard had marvelled with such prominence, the architect, the orchestrator of all of City’s productive overtures. He relentlessly bewildered and perturbed the Everton resistance, nimble, creative and outrageously elusive.
He was deployed behind City’s principal starting striker, Stevan Jovetic. Almost immediately, Silva was involved, delivering an incisive through-ball into Jesus Navas, whose subsequent cross worked the Everton resistance.
Silva continued to threaten, capitalising on Muhamed Besic's inexplicable lapse of concentration. His following pass, as Jesus Navas broke beyond Leighton Baines, was timed to perfection, his Spanish compatriot dragging his effort narrowly wide of Robles's exposed goal.
Silva marvelled as City's architect, bewildering the disinclined Everton defence, nimble, creative and outrageously productive. Besic's hesitation permitted Silva to lead yet another menacing City foray, the aforementioned Bosnian atoning for his error with an excellent intervention.
The Gwlayds Street End howled in delight with every promising, fluent and energetic Everton attack, Hart brilliantly denying Lukaku before Seamus Coleman's thunderous strike lampooned off the crossbar.
Everton would not succumb meekly. Lukaku ran Elaquim Mangala ragged, leading an Everton break down the right channel, ultimately felled by the City centre-half, condemned with a yellow card for his advances.
Lukaku continued to perturb Mangala, twisting left and right before striking across goal. The Frenchman was prominently involved, alleged by Goodison to have impeded Phil Jagielka as the England defender contested a corner.
A gripping end-to-end thriller was unfolding before the anxious Goodison crowd. Silva skewed wide. Nasri probed and probed. And then, almost inevitably, on came City's irreplaceable, irresistible, and simply unstoppable, Sergio Aguero replacing the under-whelming Jovetic.
Yet, perhaps, if City are to be champions-elect, it is ingrained in the DNA of champions. It was a desperate scramble, an an untidy one at it too, yet Fernandinho will claim it. It was opportunistic, almost instinctive.
Fernandinho set the move going, setting Silva on the go as City broke with intent. He buccaneered forward to meet the ball, directing the ball towards the bottom left-hand corner.
City would not lead for long, though. Everton's response embodied their resilience, Naismith equalising through perseverance.
Pellegrini played the card which has proved so valuable this season, Lampard entering the fray, to impotence in a crucial, and regrettable, lapse in the Premier League title race.