Everton 1 Man City 0
Title-chasing Manchester City were stunned at Goodison Park as Everton secured a thoroughly deserved 1-0 win.
Darron Gibson got the only goal – his first for the Blues – against Roberto Mancini’s big-spending side, who arrived on Merseyside top of the table, but left with their tails between their legs.
It was a game where the Blues’ fighting spirit came to the fore. Denis Stracqualursi never stopped running in attack, Tony Hibbert slotted in at centre-half as if he’d played there all his life, while John Heitinga stopped everything in his path.
Most importantly it was a vital three points for the Blues – their first since New Year’s Day – that took David Moyes’ men into the top half of the table with a clean sheet to boot.
On a bitterly cold night, the game started at a frantic pace. And, after Hibbert, in at centre-back for Shane Duffy, was forced to make a good tackle on Sergio Aguero early on, it was Everton who went closing to opening the scoring.
Tim Cahill won a corner off Joleon Lescott. Royston Drenthe’s inswinging delivery was met at the far post by Denis Stracqualursi, whose header beat Joe Hart, only to be nodded away from on the line by Lescott. Stracqualursi was convinced his effort had crossed the line but the assistant referee erred on the side of caution, while replays proved inconclusive.
A minute later, City burst forward with David Silva working the ball to Micah Richards. The big right-back cut inside but saw his near-post effort beaten behind by Tim Howard.
With Richards and Clichy virtually playing as wing-backs, the game was open but chances were at a premium against City’s giant centre-backs, while Hibbert was turning in a cultured display in his unfamiliar role in the middle of the back four.
Marouane Fellaini warmed the hands, however, with a lovely pirouette to glide past Silva in a repeat of the trick he so famously performed on Craig Bellamy in this fixture two years ago.
As news filtered through that the deal for Croatian striker Nikica Jelovic had been confirmed, Everton upped the ante and Vincent Kompany, only just back from a four-match ban, was booked for clattering into Cahill.
On 35 minutes, Leighton Baines’ cross was nodded into the path of Fellaini by Stracqualursi, but the big Belgian screwed his first-time shot wide.
Just 60 seconds later, City broke and they looked to have gone in front when Samir Nasri let fly from 30 yards. His effort beat Howard all ends up, only to crash off the angle between post and bar.
The game was held up in the strangest of circumstances in the 40th minute when a spectator handcuffed himself to the left-hand post of Hart’s goal. Stewards and police intervened and eventually – after three-and-a-half minutes - bolt-cutters were used to remove the offender, who was roundly booed as he was escorted from the ground.
It transpired that the supporter is a known professional protester, allegedly protesting about an airline's recruitment policy. He was arrested by Merseyside Police, who are now dealing with the matter.
When play resumed, five minutes of time were added on, but there were no more talking points – on or off the pitch – before the half-time whistle blew.
It was City who made the early running in the second half and only a wonderful tackle by Fellaini stopped Silva in his tracks as the City man glided through the Everton defence.
On the hour mark, the game exploded into life and it was former Manchester United man Gibson who was celebrating. Fellaini broke up a City attack in the middle of the park and fed Drenthe, who burst forward. The winger played the ball out wide to Baines and his delivery found Donovan at the far post. The American, quiet up until this point, thought about shooting first time but instead took a touch and teed up Gibson to fire a drive past Hart from the edge of the area, with his effort taking a decisive deflection off Gareth Barry.
Goodison was rocking and City immediately made a change, with the ineffective James Milner being replaced by Adam Johnson. Soon after Lescott was also withdrawn for Aleksandar Kolorov to the delight of the home faithful.
Gibson nearly repeated the act on 70 minutes, seeing a left-footed volley fly just wide from 20 yards after Stracqualursi’s cross had only been cleared as far as the Irishman.
Everton retreated deeper in an effort to protect their lead. Claims of a handball against Phil Neville from a Kolorov cross were turned down, before Jose Baxter entered the fray to replace Drenthe.
Stracqualursi was given a rousing ovation when he departed the action with a minute to go as Everton recorded another famous victory over City.