Carlos Tevez, then, has withdrawn his transfer request after what are apparently called “clear the air” talks with the executives of Manchester City Football Club. It feels as if there is an incessant need on the part of the media to create a crisis at Manchester City at every turn this season. We all know that their financial arrangements err on the wrong side of ridiculous, but the suspicion is now starting to form that there is something of a witch hunt going on at The City of Manchester Stadium. City, the upstarts, the perennial failures, are at the point of achieving something and you don’t have to be a fan of the way that they are going about things to start to form the opinion that there are plenty of people out there that really don’t want to them to upset the status quo.
Everton, meanwhile, continue to exist on that high-wire between being an enigma and a car crash. It’s two months since they beat Liverpool in the Merseyside derby at Goodison Park. This was exactly the moment that we should have expected their season to kick into some sort of gear, but since that match they have won one, lost two and drawn six. There have been decent results for them, even in this shaky period – draws at Stamford Bridge and White Hart Lane are not to be sniffed at – but Everton remain just two points above the relegation places, which is too close for comfort for most that are aware of the sixty-seven years since the club last played outside the top division of English football. This is the contradiction of Everton’s season, thus far – they are unbeaten against Manchester United, Chelsea, Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool, but have only beaten Birmingham City, Stoke City and Liverpool in the league so far this season. They are an enigma wrapped inside a mystery.
Within four minutes, Everton are in front. A cross from the right-hand side evades everybody and lands at the feet of Seamus Coleman, who swings the ball back in towards Tim Cahill and, whilst Kolo Toure – possibly frozen solid by the bitter, lacerating cold, possibly getting a little practice at playing “statues” ahead of the forthcoming holiday period – stands and watches, Cahill nods the ball past Joe Hart and in at the near post. Manchester City rally somewhat, but the question, a perennial one, of how much the players really care is again upon the agenda. After ten minutes, City come close to what most people would realistically expect from a few hundred millions of pounds worth of footballers, but David Silva, admittedly from a narrow-ish angle, shoots into the side netting. He turns away, smirking. He’s wearing gloves and a scarf. He’s earning £140,000 per week. Something about this combination may say something significant about where Manchester City are right now.
Still, though the Manchester City supporters try to urge their team forward. A win tonight would put them top of the Premier League for Christmas, which, whilst it wouldn’t mean much in the overall scheme of things, would at least hold some sort of symbolic value for those that have been swept along with their recent largesse. City, though, are seemingly feeling implosive tonight and after nineteen minutes Everton are 2-0 up. Baines plays a tidy three-four with Cahill, who curls the ball around Hart and into the net. “Two-nil, and we spent fuck all”, sing the close to delirious Everton supporters away to the right. Everton. Sixty-seven consecutive years in the top division of English football (a record beaten, of course, only by Arsenal). Everton. Nine times the champions of England and five times winners of the FA Cup. They are the underdogs here tonight on account of money and money alone.
Still, though, it’s possible to have a little sympathy for Manchester City. They rally somewhat after the second goal, and still more after half-time, especially after Victor Anichebe is sent off for contriving to pick up two yellow cards in three minutes just before the hour mark in the second half. With this, the pressure that Manchester City have been starting to apply turns into little less than a state of siege, an impression that is enhanced with the apparent desperation with which the home side are throwing the ball into the general direction of the Everton penalty area. Silva fires a shot at Neville and appeals for a penalty, but is waved away, but with nineteen minutes to go they finally get a touch of luck. The touch comes from Phil Jagielka’s shin, which diverts Toure’s cross into an unguarded goal to bring City back into the game. Have they, however, got the time to scramble themselves an equaliser?
No, as it turns out. Adam Johnson shoots just over. Howard saves brilliantly from Carlos Tevez after Balotelli bundles the past him and against the post. With a couple of minutes left, Toure shoots from distance and the ball flicks off Howard’s out-stretched fingertips and wide of the post. The referee signals a goal kick, and this decision kind of sums up Manchester City’s evening. Everton have had two shots on target and scored with both of them. City, meanwhile, have had four times as many and could only muster an own goal for their troubles. As if to add an extra layer of symbolism, Kolo Toure earns himself a second yellow card for a reckless tackle to level the numbers on the pitch up for the last thirty seconds, at least. Roberto Mancini looks on in something approaching disbelief. It looks as if, possibly for the first time or possibly not, he is wondering why he got involved with this in the first place.
So, a win that would have put Manchester City atop English football at Christmas for the first time since 1929 is denied them with a result that will probably prompt as much cheer around Old Trafford as it will at Goodison Park. They had been unbeaten since the start of November, but expectations around the club are now such that each defeat brings a fresh round of rumours and speculation. It’s an invisible cost of the money that they now have to work with, and it seems likely to cost them the league title this season, at least. This year seems likely to end with their cross-city rivals starting to look as if they will pull clear at the top of the Premier League table. Everton, meanwhile, defended stoutly and deserved the points, on balance, but they have been short of consistency required to rise above mid-table so far this season. Perhaps the first half of 2011 will be more successful for them than the second half of 2010 has been.
Follow Twohundredpercent on Twitter here.