Photo credit: AFP.

Manchester City wasted a chance to close the gap in the Premier League title race as they were held to a 0-0 draw by Everton at Eastlands on Wednesday.

A week after losing 2-1 at Everton in the first leg of their League Cup semi-final, City were once again frustrated by the Merseysiders. A failure to score at home for the first time this season means City remain three points behind Arsenal when a win would have moved them within one point of the leaders, who drew at Liverpool. Manuel Pellegrini’s third placed side still haven’t managed back-to-back league wins since October.

City dominated the second half and at times were almost camped in Everton’s penalty area. But with Tim Howard excelling in goal for the visitors, City’s shortcomings in attack when Sergio Aguero doesn’t score were again exposed as they drew at home for the first time this season.

City’s unlikely pursuit of a quadruple of domestic and European honors is still a possibility, although Everton are making sure they will have to do it the hard way. As well as giving City plenty to do in the second leg of their cup semifinal, last week’s result appeared to fill Everton with confidence as they sought only a second win in eight league games.

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City had the best of the early chances as they looked to close the gap on Arsenal ,with former Liverpool winger Raheem Sterling, starting in place of David Silva, releasing Kevin de Bruyne for a shot he poked wide. Yaya Toure, back after missing City’s FA Cup win over Norwich last Saturday, then met a Bacary Sagna cross with a downward header which was well saved by the re-called Howard.

– Dangerous –

Photo credit: AFP.

But Everton then showed their threat on the counter-attack, which was to worry City for the remainder of the first half. Joe Hart was forced to block Gerard Deulofeu’s angled effort following a pass from Romelu Lukaku ,who also saw a shot deflected over the bar as he stretched Nicolas Otamendi and Martin Demichelis, again deputizing for the absent Vincent Kompany and Eliaquim Mangala. And when Lukaku crossed for Leon Osman with half an hour gone, the veteran midfielder was only inches away from marking first Premier League start of the season with a stunning goal as his first-time volley curled narrowly past the far post.

City evidently heeded that warning and the possibility of dropping further points as they turned up the power at the start of the second half. Everton were forced onto the defensive and into a rearguard action which had them at full stretch as the home side probed for the opening goal. The lively Sterling had two early openings he could not convert, and Toure saw a shot deflected wide as the visitors massed their blue shirts in front of goal.

And when that line was breached, Howard fully justified the faith of boss Roberto Martinez in returning in place of Joel Robles after the Spaniard had played in Everton’s back-to-back wins over City and then Dagenham and Redbridge in the FA Cup. Howard dealt with a succession of dangerous crosses, using almost every part of his body to prevent the ball from reaching a waiting City forward.

And when Aguero did get a sight of goal, the American twice denied him, blocking a volley from a corner and then when the striker rolled away from Ramiro Funes Mori, standing large to block again.

City struggled to create another clear-cut chance as they ran out of ideas and Everton held out for a result they would love to repeat in a fortnight’s time as Wembley beckons.