City, shorn of their talismanic central spine, Kompany, Yaya and Aguero, chose to replace them with the Journeyman Block. Whenever you see the words "Barry" and "Garcia" written alongside each other on a team-sheet, you know you have a team with a carnival float in the middle. Playing the yard dogs and hungry sprinters of Everton with a carnival float in the middle of the park is asking to be overtaken and, sure enough, right from the off, City were second into every tackle, second to every loose ball and second to each and every cross. We were even second into referee Probert's soon-to-be-filled little black book, for God's sake.
City's players, aware that this was a vital match in the slightly forlorn but not quite dead chase for the title, aware that this is a place that a long time ago turned into a noisy jinxed bearpit of a ground for the Blues, would have been primed to stand tall in the opening minutes, meet fire with fire and fly into challenges as if the planet's well-being depended on it. As a result the first twenty minutes was an unfolding festival of fouls. Lee Probert, eager to take control, began his doomed yellow card project which would ultimately fall foul of him during an equally feisty second half. Into the little notebook flew Kolo Touré, a highly irritable Pienaar, Fellaini, Dzeko and even David Silva for a snide little trip on his midfield opponent. Probert would tire of writing names in the second half and thus chaos descended, as the referee decided carte blanche instead of carte jaune would be the theme after the break.
Mirallas had already had a perfectly good goal disallowed when Osman suddenly swung a left boot at a pass inside from the tireless Coleman. The ball shot off his foot at such pace and with such effect that, as it approached Joe Hart, it suddenly and violently swerved past him into the top corner like a frisby taken by a playful gust of wind. In a game full of tugging, pulling and tripping, this was very much like unearthing a sapphire from a giant heap of horse dung. Sadly, it was not a sapphire for us, but one the neighbours had found in their own dung heap of fouls and fizzing tackles.
When Pienaar, a little too nervy from the start, began the 2nd half with another clattering foul, Probert had seen enough. Carte rouge. This had two essential effects: it racked up the crowd's state of aggression and self-pity to orange alert level and it made Everton run around even more agitatedly. City were trapped in a heaving wasps' nest. Red hot atmosphere. The locals baying for anything and everything. Even the anonymous garcia was attracting a torrent of boos every tentative touch. Call then for the men of steel: Nasri, then Clichy. Bon nuit, Paris, as they say in these parts.
|Garcia and Barry stop for a cup of tea|
A degree of misfortune decorates our feelings of emptiness. When Probert called Fellaini's handball in the area (three feet or so inside the area) a free kick two feet outside and failed to send off the Belgian, you knew time was up on City's title defence. You do not lose a title race in one game, but if one game can encapsulate why you have lost it, here it was staring us all glumly in the face.
Time ran out with Jan Mucha, a clown with big painted gloves last week, playing out his blinder with blocks from Zabaleta and Milner. There really was no space anywhere, no last redemption for Blues. In fact, it is worse than that. Last minute euphoria for the locals. Clichy, as you might expect in a bear knuckle fight like this, lost out as he tried to pat a delicate outside of the foot pass through a pair of burly home men. Coleman for the umpteenth time runs the length of the pitch - at speed - delivering to Jelavic, whose weak shot loops off the retreating Clichy's tackling foot and wobbles like a slightly deflated beach ball over the prone Joe Hart.
|"They're going mad and they're right to go mad!"|
When Nil Satis Nisi Optimum meets Superbia in Proelia, something has to give, but this was far from the best and any battles were being won by the dark blues.
Hart: 6 - commanded his space well enough; delivery accurate; beaten by a wonder strike and a wobbily beach ball
Zabaleta: 7 - Best of a grim clutch; never-say-die is the least you get from the Argentinian.
Nastasic: 6 - Ill at ease even though much of the game saw him with only Anichebe to marshall
Touré: 6 - The same. Anichebe, a clearly limited striker, proved the complete handfull for the centre-back pair.
Kolarov: 6 - You could see why he was there ahead of Clichy, but the loss of pace on that side was conspicuous.
Garcia: 5 - inaffective, sideways shuttling. Never sought out the piercing pass.
Barry: 5 - In a mess alongside the equally slow Garcia. Not the pairing to pull up any tree roots with.
Silva: 6 - Largely inaffective because of the lack of space, but still worked some opportunities for Milner.
Milner: 6 - Lively and persistent, but made little headway playing out wide where the greater space was an illusion.
Tevez: 6 - As usual, cannot fault the energy levels and looked dangerous around the box, but no clear result from all that effort.
Dzeko: 6 - Goes down too easily. Problems holding the ball up with the cavalry horses neighing in his ears all afternoon.
Subs: Clichy: ineffectual. Nasri: flitted around. Sinclair: ineffectual.
Mancini: 5 - Knows what to expect from Goodison after all this time. Same mistakes as previously. His side was too slow into the tackle, too slow to move the ball on and too slow to create chances. At the one ground where speed of thought and limb counts, this was palpably missing.