STEVEN NAISMITH EARNED Everton a sorely-needed point and denied Manchester City the chance to keep pace with Premier League leaders Chelsea in a 1-1 draw at Goodison Park on Saturday.
Manuel Pellegrini’s team took a 74th minute lead when Samir Nasri set up a shooting opportunity for David Silva, whose blocked strike fell for Brazilian midfielder Fernandinho to head in from close range past the despairing goalline lunge of Seamus Coleman.
But second placed City held the lead for just four minutes as they defended poorly at Leighton Baines’ left-flank free-kick and the unmarked Naismith was allowed to head home powerfully past the stranded Joe Hart.
City’s frustration was compounded as leaders Chelsea beat Newcastle to open up a two-point lead over the champions.
The best chance of the first half had fallen to Everton, although it took the home side 42 minutes to create their first opening as Coleman fed Romelu Lukaku in the area.
The Everton forward easily beat his marker Eliaquim Mangala before forcing Hart into a fine save with an outstretched boot.
Better yet, for home fans frustrated both by their team’s recent form and their first half performance, Aiden McGeady gathered the rebound from Hart’s save and completed a short pass to Coleman who struck the cross-bar with a 20-yard shot.
Had Roberto Martinez’s struggling side taken a lead into the half-time interval, it would have been an injustice on a City team which, aided by strong winds behind them, had dominated first half proceedings.
Everton did not help themselves, however, with their back four – England defender Phil Jagielka in particular – making far too many unforced errors and constantly gifting City the ball.
Had City forward Stevan Jovetic shown better aim on a number of occasions, they would have had a stranglehold on the game well before the halfway point.
- Jovetic misfires -
It would have been a good occasion for Jovetic to prove his attacking value to Pellegrini given that Sergio Aguero, a substitute at Goodison, and Edin Dzeko are both close to full fitness and Wilfried Bony is poised to complete a transfer to City from Swansea.
Instead, Jovetic was presented with at least three shooting opportunities from the edge of the area but failed to test Joel Robles in the Everton goal even once.
Jesus Navas was also guilty of a glaring miss, after 14 minutes, when the influential and the hugely impressive Silva capitalised on a Jagielka slip and set him up for a shot which was rolled well wide of goal.
Mangala almost got a touch on a low Silva shot just six yards out – with any touch surely bringing City the lead – but, for all their possession, Robles reached half-time without having had a real save to make.
The home side made a purposeful start to the second period with Ross Barkley curling a 20-yard free-kick just wide of the City goal and Lukaku once more bettered Mangala after 57 minutes, taking Barkley’s pass and shooting towards the far corner and forcing Hart into another good stop.
However, the consequence of more Everton possession was more threat from City on the counter.
Nasri and Silva linked well with a one-two that had Robles scurrying off his line to save and, on the hour, the Everton keeper was required to punch, unconvincingly, to clear a Nasri free-kick.
In a much improved second half performance, Everton had the ball in the City goal after 69 minutes when Hart failed to deal with a Leighton Baines free-kick, allowing Jagielka to net the rebound, only for Naismith to be ruled offside.