For a guy who had a tough time finding the pitch for Manchester United, Darron Gibson certainly helped his former employer on Tuesday. His 19-yard deflected strike beat Joe Hart at the hour mark, and Everton earned the home victory over league leading Manchester City.
Tim Howard and the Everton defense, playing without injured defenders Phil Jagielka and Sylvain Distin, kept a clean sheet against a star-studded lineup for the Blues playing in their Milanesque red-and-black away kits. A somewhat makeshift central defense pairing of John Heitinga and Tony Hibbert were surprisingly hard-nosed, especially in defending the multitude of aerial attacks from the wings. While City poured on pressure through extended portions of the match, the closest the came to a tally was a Samir Nasri slice from nearly 30 yards that struck the corner of the woodwork.
The interesting tactical feature for Manchester City was playing a 4-4-2 with Samir Nasri paired in a deep central role with Gareth Barry. With James Milner playing to the right, he and David Silva would cut inside from the wings behind Gibson and Marouane Fellaini. The two central midfielders from Everton would be sucked upfield to get pressure on Nasri and Barry, and that left space for the wingers to wait for passes into the next layer. Unfortunately for the Blues, their two forwards, Edin Dzeko and Sergio Aguero, were not particularly effective in the final third at finding space.
The Toffees were up to their usual game of aerial football, attempting to play balls to strong center forward types (Denis Stracqualursi and Tim Cahill in this match). In general, Gibson and Fellaini were quite generous in returning possession to City throughout the match. In the first half, they nearly scored off a corner as Stracqualursi headed the ball towards net. A saving clearance from Joleon Lescott kept the match level up until the Gibson goal.
That goal came at the end of a great run by Roysten Drenthe. As he came upon pressure, he laid a pass into space for Leighton Baines. The left back crossed from just outside the 18-yard line, and was initially thwarted by Vincent Kompany. The ball came to Landon Donovan, who couldn’t find a shot himself but set up Gibson streaking towards the area. The recent acquisition from the Red Devils hit a right footed shot that glanced off the defense and snuck inside the right post.
The match was stopped for nearly 5 minutes in the first half as a pitch invader decided to handcuff himself to the City goal. The scene was somewhat surreal as the police freed the intruder.
Everton did well to see out the match, and this is yet another time where Manchester City lacked the wherewithal to fight back to scrounge out even a single point from this match. While they were missing Mario Balotelli to suspension, the lineup certainly had enough quality to muster a goal against a makeshift back line for the Toffees. The Blues are now on level terms with their Manchester counterparts at the top of the table, with goal difference their only saving grace at this point. Their next test is against Fulham, a home match where they will need to return to form since United is back on track.
EVERTON 1 – 0 MANCHESTER CITY – JANUARY 31, 2012, GOODISON PARK, LIVERPOOL UK
EVERTON (4-1-3-2) – Howard; Neville, Hibbert, Heitinga, Baines; Fellaini; Donovan, Gibson, Drenthe (Baxter 79′) ; Stracqualursi (Vellios 88′), Cahill
MANCHESTER CITY (4-4-2) – Hart; Richards, Kompany, Lescott (Kolarov 68′), Clichy; Milner (Johnson 61′), Nasri, Barry (de Jong 86′), Silva; Dzeko, Aguero
GOALS – Gibson (Donovan) 60′, 19 yards, right foot strike
DISCIPLINE – Everton 1 (Drenthe 77′, caution); Manchester City 2 (Kompany 34′, caution; Lescott 59′, caution)
SHOTS – Everton 9; Manchester City 20
SHOTS ON GOAL – Everton 5; Manchester City 12
FOULS – Everton 12; Manchester City 9