Demarai Gray’s stunning 20-yard curled equaliser ensured Everton ended 2022 with a battling and deserved 1-1 draw at defending champions Manchester City.
The Blues bounced back from injury-time heartache on Boxing Day against Wolves to produce a performance packed with heart and character, mixed with genuine threat on the counter-attack, to give plenty of optimism going into the new year.
Erling Haaland put City in front on 24 minutes with a low finish from Riyad Mahrez’s cross but Frank Lampard’s men remained in the battle and got their just rewards after the hour mark when Gray whipped in an unstoppable finish that flew past Ederson and into the top right-hand corner.
Manager Lampard made four changes to his starting line-up from Wolves on Boxing Day, with Dominic Calvert-Lewin making a welcome return to lead the Blues’ attack in place of Neal Maupay.
A switch to three central defenders also saw Ben Godfrey named in the line-up for the first time since fracturing his fibula on the opening day of the season as he partnered Conor Coady – back after being ineligible to face parent club Wolves – and James Tarkowski.
Demarai Gray supported Calvert-Lewin in attack – getting the nod ahead of Dwight McNeil – with Anthony Gordon and Yerry Mina missing from the matchday squad because of illness.
Everton’s plan to stay compact and threaten on the counter was evident early on and it nearly came up trumps with seven minutes on the clock as Calvert-Lewin headed down Tarkowski’s lofted ball into the path of Gray. He sprayed a pass wide right for Alex Iwobi to glide in a low cross that got stuck under the feet of Bernando Silva before the Portuguese cleared at the second attempt.
FT. Ending 2022 with a big point on the road! UTT! ✊💙 pic.twitter.com/BTk38VcoCH— Everton (@Everton) December 31, 2022
City came into the contest as the Premier League’s top scorers with 43 goals in 16 matches and they showed their array of attacking quality on 11 minutes when Kevin De Bruyne threaded a through ball into the area for Erling Haaland. Jordan Pickford did well to race off his line, though, and force the Norwegian wide which proved crucial as the striker could hit only the side netting from a narrow angle.
Pickford produced more fine work moments later, rushing out to punch away De Bruyne’s dangerous free-kick into the area and thwarting England teammate and ex-Blue John Stones in the process.
But there was little Pickford could do when the opener arrived on 24 minutes. Jack Grealish switched play from left to right across the edge of the penalty area, Riyad Mahrez jinked past Vitalii Mykoelnko and cut a pass inside for Haaland to squeeze a shot beyond Pickford, whose slight touch deflected the ball past Coady waiting on the goalline.
The Blues picked themselves up from the setback to keep City on their toes with quick counters, another one ending with Onana being clattered by De Bruyne on halfway and his Belgium teammate being booked as a result.
With 10 minutes to go of the first half, the home fans started to get restless as Everton enjoyed an impressive spell of possession, moving the ball around the park and using the flanks, the highlight seeing Idrissa Gana Gueye glide in a cross that met the head of Calvert-Lewin 12 yards out, only for the striker to be punished for a push on Stones.
The Blues knew they could never switch off, however, and City nearly doubled their advantage moments before the break, De Bruyne swinging in another threatening free-kick for Stones to plant a header on to the post.
Seconds later, the Everton players were furious by a late challenge from Haaland on Mykolenko – the goalscorer being shown a yellow card, as was Tarkowski for protesting with the assistant referee.
It was imperative for Everton to keep City at bay in the early stages of the second half to stay in the contest but it was Lampard’s men who managed to threaten first when Onana switched play with a pinpoint pass to send Mykolenko clear down the left. The much-needed killer cross into the area didn’t follow, though, and the hosts were able to clear.
There was no shortage of quality when the Blues’ leveller came on 64 minutes, however. Gana did well to read Rodri’s pass and intercept just inside his own half. The Senegalese played a quick pass to Gray who raced forward and into the City penalty area. The forward waited for Mykolenko to make the overlap but opted to cut inside and, despite a slip, unleashed a sumptuous curled finish into the top right-hand corner to send the away end delirious.
Back level pegging, the late City onslaught in search of a winner was inevitable, with Lampard responding by adding fresh legs in Neal Maupay, Seamus Coleman and Tom Davies for Calvert-Lewin, Patterson and Gana.
Everton resolve and desire was summed up on 82 minutes as the hosts looked nailed on for a second, only for Coleman to produce a superb block to keep out De Bruyne’s goalbound strike, quickly followed by a full-length Pickford save to deny Mahrez.
An earlier stop in play for the assistant referee to replace his earpiece meant a whopping 11 minutes of added time were signalled for the Blues to hold on.
Held on they did, though, to secure a morale-boosting point that injects fresh impetus into their season.