Manchester City 1-1 Everton

Gray superstrike earns Blues a massive point

A second half strike of genuine quality from Demarai Gray saw Everton come from behind and confound their critics with a battling performance of determination and resilience to take a hard and well-earned point from Manchester City.

Following the traumatic last gasp defeat to previously bottom club Wolves on Boxing Day, Everton faced an even more daunting task of playing the champions, Manchester City, on their home ground onNew Years Eve.

City with former Everton trialist Erling Haaland in rampant scoring form – which knucklehead decided he wasn’t good enough to play for Everton I ask myself – having scored twenty in just fourteen games in his maiden Premier League season compared to the twelve that the entire Everton squad has amassed in sixteen games prior to this crucial fixture.

Incredibly and despite the scoring exploits of Haaland, City find themselves five points behind leaders Arsenal and influential Portuguese midfielder Bernardo Silva suggested it’s the task of narrowing and overcoming that gap that is spurring City on. Speaking after the 3-1 win at Elland Road on Wednesday night, Silva commented, “It was a good performance against a tough team in a very tough atmosphere, we know how difficult it is to win there because last season it was very tough as well. I am happy to be back with a win. We know that we have got a long way to go and we are not at the top so we are not happy with that. We just need to keep working, keep winning games, three points after three points, we will try to get there.”

He went further adding about facing the Toffees, “Everton is always a difficult game because even when they are not doing very well, it is a physical team and they have a big team mentality. We have suffered in the past against them. We are not going to take it easy, we are going to take this game seriously because we know how difficult it is to play against a team with so many quality players like Everton.”

City boss Pep Guardiola understandably has his sights cleary set on retaining the title and he commented, “The title race in my experience is about the way you play. Not because we have done it in the past, it’s what we’re going to do in the future. But if we continue to play like we did in the last two games, create more and concede less, and if we continue improving, then we will be there. For the quality that we have and the players that we have, we will be there.”

With a veritable galaxy of stars to select from, the Spaniard settled on a starting line-up of: Ederson, Lewis, Stones, Akanji, Ake, De Bruyne, Rodri, Bernardo Silva, Mahrez, Grealish and Haaland.

For Frank Lampard, the situation could hardly be more contrasting to that of Guardiola, as with just three victories all season and only a dozen goals scored, Everton are again on the brink of another relegation dogfight, and unless potent striking options can be added to the squad, that shortage of goals could prove the ultimate price come the season end.

To try and boost the scoring options, Everton have recalled striker Ellis Simms from his loan to Championship side Sunderland but, he won’t feature at the Etihad and it’s the fitness of Dominic Calvert-Lewin and whether he can make the kind of effective return from a long-standing thigh injury that may yet prove to be the critical factor in the second half of the season.

The immediate task for Lampard and Everton was to react to the loss against Wolves and try and cause what would definitely be seen as a major upset by getting a result from the short trip to Manchester. Speaking to the media Lampard said, “It’s the hardest way to lose a game, especially one that you believe you deserved to win. We played a pretty good game, I felt that at the time and I feel it more watching the game back. We were very good off the ball, especially in the first half and made it very difficult for Wolves to create chances. We had our chances to win and it’s a cruel way to lose the game. I feel for the players in that sense because they give everything.” He continued, “But we have to bounce back. They don’t come tougher than what we have in front of us but at the same time, we can’t forget the good things we did in the game. We have to go with a sense of belief, pride and confidence.”

On the lack of goals his team have scored so far this season he added, “We need to be more clinical. We know that has been a problem recently. We work a lot on finishing. Some coaches work to the last part of the pitch and then leave it to players, at a high level, you can probably do that, it’s instinctive for them. But we work a lot on the final third, the areas we want to get into and finish. You repeat and you hope that it transfers into games. At this point, it hasn’t been enough for us. The games are very fresh in my mind of where they would have looked different with finishing our chances, obviously Wolves is a clear one for us. You just have to keep working.

With Conor Coady available again after having to sit out the Wolves game, the Blues boss mused over changes before opting for his starting eleven thus: Pickford (c), Patterson, Coady, Godfrey, Tarkowski, Mykolenko, Iwobi, Gana Gueye, Onana, Gray and Calvert-Lewin.

On a cool and damp afternoon, our referee was Andy Madley.

As at all grounds this weekend, a minutes applause rang around the Etihad as a mark of respect for the great Brazilian – Pele, followed by a superbly observed by both sets of supporters minutes silence in memory of former City and Everton players and staff who passed away in 2022.

Haaland went down inside 20 seconds after an aerial challenge with Ben Godfrey and needed treatment on his right Achilles before being okay to continue. A foul by Gray on Lewis gave City the first chance to put the Blues defence under pressure only for Silva to flight his cross too strongly and out of play for a goal kick.

Godfrey sent Gray into space on the right and when he found Iwobi to cross, City got back in numbers to get the ball clear. Tarkowski did well to clear a dangerous cross from Silva aimed towards Haaland as City began to dominate the possession and when De Bruyne played Haaland in, he rounded Pickford but, the angle was too tight and he hit the side netting.

Fifteen minutes elapsed with Everton happy to sit deep trying to restrict the space for City to try and find Haaland in while City for their part were looking to move the ball around and force a defensive error before Silva was rightly yellow carded for diving in trying to win a foul from Patterson. Grealish was next to hit the ground after a tackle by Patterson adjudged to be a foul, and City has a free kick wide on their left. De Bruyne fired it into the area at pace and Pickford got a solid punch on the ball, taking Stones out in the process who needed treatment before continuing.

Everton resistance was broken as City opened the scoring in the 24th minute as Grealish spread the ball left to right for Mahrez and he gained the Everton area to play a low cross for Haaland to score on the turn from eight yards, and then childishly taunt Ben Godfrey.

City were boosted and won two quick corners as they looked to make the most of their lead, and all the time, Haaland was trying to get physical with Godfrey, the second set piece saw Mahrez have a shot blocked and cleared. De Bruyne was rightly booked for a cynical challenge on Onana as Everton looked to counterattack – they might play some nice football but, they’re not adversed to practising the dark arts too.

Half an hour gone and Everton were losing possession too easily, too many heavy or poor first touches and Nathan Patterson was next to see yellow for a foul on Grealish who does tend to go down rather easily when tackled. The best Everton move of the half so far on 34 minutes saw them work the ball forward well and a cross from the right was just to high for Mykolenko arriving at the back post.

Good work by Mykolenko saw his recover a ball lost by Gray to keep possession and keep a move building that led to Dominic Calvert-Lewin conceding a foul in the City penalty area. Five minutes left in the first half and Everton were enjoying some better possession without hurting City but, hopefully rebuilding some confidence in their own abilities.

Grealish tried to get Ake beyond Patterson, the young Scot defending well at the expense of a corner that failed to produce. Haaland, like an entitled jessie, celebrated a free kick that saw De Bruyne cross for Stones to see his header come back off the post and Haaland drew an angry reaction from a number of Everton players for a poor challenge on Mykolenko that saw the Norwegian become the third City player booked, and James Tarkowski too for the strength of his protests.

Three added minutes were signalled and played out without further incident, and whilst behind on the scoreboard and disappointingly not having had an effort on target, Everton had certainly not folded as many neutral observers probably expected them to.

Half Time: 1-0

No changes of personnel by either manager for the start of the second half that saw City settle quickly into their multiple passing style of play, looking to pull the Everton defence every which way they could. Grealish won a corner off Patterson, Iwobi and Gana Gueye working the ball clear from the inswinger from De Bruyne. A fine ball from Onana set Mykolenko away on the left flank, his cross for Dominic Calvert-Lewin intercepted by Akanji and cleared.

A long delay ensued while a linesman had his communication system replaced, so much for modern technology improving the game – the players rightly annoyed that play was halted in the cold and rain having only just got restarted.

Iwobi and Grealish collided, the City player coming off the worst and needing treatment on his right knee and we passed the hour mark albeit with at least six minutes to be added on later with Grealish fouling Patterson on his right Achilles. Onana went in hard on Rodri and was booked for his trouble meaning he will miss the home game against Brighton on Tuesday with a one match suspension.

Gana Gueye won the ball in midfield and set Demarai Gray free on the left and just when it looked like the chance had gone, with Mykolenko overlapping to draw a defender, Gray unleashed a terrific shot in off the underside of the bar that gave Ederson no chance to tie the game up on 65 minutes.

The travelling fans greeted the goal with a wall of noise and the team responded by looking to go forward again and Onana saw a deflected shot win a corner in front of the Evertonian support, that Gray took and City cleared.

A double change by Frank Lampard on 69 minutes saw Neal Maupay replace Calvert-Lewin and Seamus Coleman come on for Nathan Patterson.

Coleman with an excellent block denied Grealish and the Everton defence stood firm as City tried to walk the ball into the area. The home side were looking to up the tempo and after Pickford gathered a deflected ball, Amadou Onana went down while Tom Davies appeared on the touchline to eventually replace Idrissa Gana Gueye on 78 minutes, the Senegalese clearly disappointed at being subbed. Grealish was lucky not to see yellow for a foul on Demarai Gray and Haaland then got away with what looked a blatant flailing arm into the face of Tarkowski who needed treatment.

Into the final ten minutes of normal time with plenty of added-on time to come and a combination of stout defending, including a fine save by Pickford from De Bruyne, and poor finishing saw Everton survive a concerted City attack. Davies played Onana in on the left and his low cross was gathered by Ederson

City made a triple change on 87 minutes with Foden, Gundogan and Alvarez replacing Grealish, Leis and Silva respectively.

Everton to their credit were still trying to get forward, Godfrey on a charge forcing Ake into some defensive work before City got forward again with Foden seeing a cross from the left cleared and Akanji fouling Maupay. A fourth Everton change came just after eleven added minutes were signalled as Abdoulaye Doucoure replaced Ben Godfrey.

Everton, understandably, were hardly in a rush at throw-ins and any chance to slow the game down was greeted with cheers by the travelling fans. Pickford with a good save from De Bruyne and then a superb defending header from Iwobi conceded a corner that Foden wasted. Five of the eleven minutes had gone by and Everton were fighting for their lives to defend the point they had in their grasp.

City were finding Everton a tough nut to crack and despite all their huffing and puffing, they couldn’t find a way past the Blues and it was the travelling Evertonians in celebratory mood at the final whistle as arguably the unlikeliest result of the day saw them take a massive point from the Etihad.

Full Time: 1-1

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