Another organised and disciplined display from Sean Dyche’s Everton was undone by two late Erling Haaland goals in a 2-0 defeat at the Etihad.
The Blues impressed for the majority of the contest, frustrating the reigning league, European and world champions and ensuring Pep Guardiola’s team failed to register a shot on target in the opening half of a top-flight home match for the first time since August 2022.
Just when it looked like Everton were to be rewarded for their efforts with a hard-earned point - and perhaps more with the way their counters involving Dominic Calvert-Lewin had proven a handful for the hosts throughout - Haaland took advantage of a kind deflection from a debatable corner to bag the opener on 70 minutes, before finishing off a quick break with five minutes remaining to end the contest.
Dyche stuck with the same starting XI who drew 2-2 at home to Tottenham Hotspur seven days earlier, with Amadou Onana making a welcome return to the matchday squad as a substitute after sustaining a knee injury against Luton Town on 27 January.
After soaking up early City pressure, the Blues threatened for the first time on six minutes when an excellent interchange throughout the team ended with James Tarkowski lofting a crossfield ball over the home defence for Vitalii Mykolenko to run on to. The Ukrainian crossed to the far post where Ashley Young’s pull back across the area was deflected clear.
Moments later, Jack Harrison played in Ben Godfrey whose sliding finish from six yards out was blocked by Ederson.
Dyche, serving a one-match touchline ban for getting a third yellow card of the season against Spurs, would have been encouraged by his side’s work rate and disciplined defensive shape in the opening exchanges, Everton limiting the hosts’ array of top-quality attackers to few chances.
The Blues were looking a handful of the counter, too, Ruben Dias fortunate not to receive the game’s first yellow card on 26 minutes when Calvert-Lewin did well to turn the defender on the right touchline only to be brought down as he looked to break clear.
City responded soon after when the dangerous Jeremy Doku found space on the left edge of the area and dinked over a cross that Haaland nodded over the bar.
Tarkowski typified Everton’s resolute defending on the half-hour mark, reading Phil Foden’s low centre to nip in ahead of Matheus Nunes and deflect the ball out for a corner.
The Blues’ best chances breaking forward involved playing Calvert-Lewin down the channels, another long pass from Tarkowski allowing the No.9 to feed Harrison, who opted to chip a pass over the defence back into Calvert-Lewin rather than spot Dwight McNeil in yards of space on the left.
Chances at the Etihad are few and far between, and Everton were ruing a missed opportunity eight minutes before the break when Young’s whipped cross from the right found the head of Calvert-Lewin before the ball fell into the path of Harrison who smacked his finish wide.
Crucially at the other end, though, Pep Guardiola’s men were being kept quiet, failing to have a league shot on target at home in the opening half for the first time since August 2022 as the sides headed into the break all square.
The pattern continued for the first 10 minutes of the second half, only for Everton to suffer a setback when Godfrey was forced off with an injury and was replaced by Seamus Coleman.
The Blues’ fine work approaching the hour mark was summed up by Guardiola turning to his substitutes’ bench to try to shake things up, Kevin De Bruyne and Kyle Walker coming on for Nunes and Akanji.
If that was to strike fear into Everton, someone forgot to tell Branthwaite as the ever-impressive centre-half held off Alvarez in the box and showed ice-cool composure to turn and pass out from the back.
Having held off City for so long, it took a huge slice of misfortune for Everton to fall behind with 20 minutes remaining. A debatable corner was given when referee John Brooks deemed Calvert-Lewin got the last touch on a header.
Alvarez swung in the set piece from the right, Ruben Dias’ header bounced off the leg of Tarkowski before Branthwaite’s clearance deflected off Ake into the path of Haaland who smashed a fierce finish past Pickford.
Never short of spirit under Dyche, Everton responded from that blow to remind the home team they still had a game on their hands, Onana linking up with fellow substitute Beto with 10 minutes to go to play the striker through on goal, only for the assistant referee to belatedly raise his flag for offside.
The Blues were back knocking on the door on 85 minutes, too, only for their attack to break down on the right edge of the area, allowing City to break clear, Haaland to squeeze past a limping Branthwaite and slot past Pickford to end any hopes of a comeback.
Beto had the ball in the back of the net at the start of 10 minutes of added-time, turning and placing a first-time shot into the bottom corner, only to see the assistant’s flag raised once more.
That proved the last meaningful action in an encounter where Everton may not have got any reward in terms of points, but can take encouragement from another steely showing that highlights why they came into the match with the fourth best defensive record in the top-flight.