Honeymoon period over for Martinez as City inflict first defeat of his reign
When Roberto Martinez suggested last week the performance would have to be perfect for Everton to extend their hoodoo over Manchester City, he was referring to his players.
But come the final whistle on a frustrating, disappointing afternoon, the Spaniard would have been more prescient in demanding a flawless outing from the officials.
The display of referee Jon Moss and his assistants was the chatter among the disgruntled away end as they trudged out of the Etihad on Saturday having seen their team’s unbeaten start to the Premier League campaign brought to a definitive halt.
Yet, while there was good reason to question the officials, ultimately they were not to blame for his chastening defeat.
It would be too strong to suggest this was a reality check. But there’s no doubt the honeymoon period for Martinez is now over.
In pictures: City 3 Everton 1
If the thrilling, goal-laden first half at home to Newcastle United five days earlier had been the high point, then the visit to City certainly acted as something of a cold shower for any over-excited Evertonians.
This is the standard to which the Goodison outfit must compete if they are to build on the foundations left behind by David Moyes from last season’s genuine – at least until the very final stages – challenge for a top-four berth.
Martinez had indicated there was no chance of Everton parking the bus at the Etihad, the Spaniard instead urging his players to go toe-to-toe with Manuel Pellegrini’s side.
They did. But City were simply too good, too strong and too keen to avoid a third defeat inside a week following successive setbacks at Aston Villa and Bayern Munich.
This, though, wasn’t Everton at their best. They threatened in patches but were too often the architects of their own downfall, whether through indifferent defending or a worrying lack of concentration, a failing that had resulted in an unnecessarily nervy finale against Newcastle.
City didn’t need the help of referee Moss, who in truth infuriated both teams by booking nine players in a game that, while always competitive, was never bad-tempered.
But the home side benefited at key times, most notably in the 69th minute for their third goal.
Having allowed Pablo Zabaleta to ghost in on his inside, Seamus Coleman’s slight nudge was all it took to send the Argentine sprawling to the ground and for Moss to subsequently point to the spot.
A soft penalty? Of course, particularly given City substitute Matija Nastasic’s more substantial shove in the back of Romelu Lukaku in the same area during the first half.
To rub salt into the gaping wound, Sergio Aguero’s poorly-struck spot-kick was saved by Tim Howard on to the post, only for the ball to rebound off the back of the goalkeeper’s head and over the line.
“If that's a penalty, it's an impossible game,” said Martinez. “It is a football disaster.”
The Everton manager, though, will surely have been concerned at the manner in which Coleman had given Zabaleta the opportunity to draw the foul, not least at it wasn’t the first time the right-back had been caught out.
The Irishman was similarly undone for City’s equaliser on 17 minutes, although Yaya Toure’s delicate pass was perfectly weighted for Alvaro Negredo to race in behind Coleman and finish through Howard.
Everton’s lead had lasted barely 90 seconds. Lukaku, played onside from Phil Jagielka’s long punt forward, progressed into the area, nutmegged the recovering Joleon Lescott and then struck a shot that City goalkeeper Joe Hart, under pressure following a series of high-profile errors, couldn’t keep out despite meeting the effort with a strong hand.
Lukaku – his goal a fourth in as many appearances for the club – terrorised City during the first half, particularly when working in tandem with Ross Barkley and Everton’s stellar performer Steven Naismith, a busy presence on his recall down the left flank.
But, as on his previous starts against Fulham and Newcastle, the Belgian faded badly after the interval.
Lukaku had only completed nine full 90 minutes in English football before arriving at Goodison, and it’s clear harnessing the young striker’s potential over the period of a full match will be an ongoing process for Martinez.
City went ahead on the stroke of half-time with another avoidable effort from the visitors’ point of view. With Everton’s defence having been unwisely distracted by breaking up a set-to between Negredo and Coleman, Silva slipped a pass down the inside right channel to Aguero, who lost the attentions of Distin sufficiently to fire powerfully across Howard into the far corner.
In truth, Martinez’s side never truly recovered from that blow, unable to capitalise on City captain Vincent Kompany hobbling off before the break with their second-half threat limited to Kevin Mirallas failing to control a Barkley throughball.
And the Everton midfield sorely missed the steadying influence of the ineligible Gareth Barry in front of a back four that has now conceded seven goals in their last three outings.
Things may have been different had Moss adjudged James Milner’s wild challenge on James McCarthy worthy of more than a yellow card.
But there could be no complaints with the result, meaning there was no continuation of Everton’s remarkable record against City having won nine of the previous 12 meetings.
The unbeaten league record may be gone. But his team’s response after the international break will be another learning experience for Martinez.
MAN OF THE MATCH. Steven Naismith. A hard-working performance down the left from the improving Scotland international
MANCHESTER CITY (4-2-3-1): Hart; Zabaleta, Kompany (Nastasic 35), Lescott, Kolarov (Clichy 58); Fernandinho, Toure; Milner, Silva, Aguero (Nasri 80); Negredo. Subs: Pantilimon, Richards, Navas, Dzeko. BOOKINGS: Kompany, Milner, Silva, Zabaleta and Fernandinho (all fouls).
EVERTON (4-2-3-1): Howard; Coleman, Jagielka, Distin, Baines; McCarthy, Osman (Gibson 63); Mirallas (Deulofeu 63), Barkley, Naismith; Lukaku (Kone 82). Subs: Robles, Heitinga, Jelavic, Stones. BOOKINGS: Distin and Howard (both dissent) and Coleman and Naismith (both fouls).
REFEREE: Jon Moss.