Everton fell to their second defeat in a week as Yaya Toure's spot kick and a superb late stop by Joe Hart proved enough for the Champions.
The soft penalty award was one of a number of inconsistent decisions by referee Andre Marriner who only showed Eliaquim Mangala a yellow card for putting his studs into Samuel Eto'o's back and showed more leniency when Gareth Barry was caught by a high boot before penalising Phil Jagielka when he came together with James Milner in the penalty area.
Toure put the ball beyond Tim Howard's reach from 12 yards to give City a lead they would retain until the final whistle.
Perhaps anticipating a difficult afternoon against Sergio Aguero, Roberto Martinez had deployed an unconventional formation for the visit to the Etihad Stadium, playing Tony Hibbert alongside Jagielka and Sylvain Distin and moving Seamus Coleman further forward into a wing-back role.
The Manchester club's top scorer went down with a knee injury after just two minutes, however, and Manuel Pellegrini's biggest attacking threat was removed.
Nevertheless, City remained the more purposeful side and pressed the Blues into a series of mistakes in midfield, one of which led to the 24th penalty that would put the home side into the lead.
After a tepid first half, Everton perked up after the break but it took a magnificent save from Howard to keep the score at 1-0 when Jose Pozo's effort from Milner's cut-back looked destined for the back of the net.
The introduction of Ross Barkley for Muhamed Besic 11 minutes after the break also saw an improvement in the Blues' tempo and ability going forward but, apart from a Kevin Mirallas free kick that was diverted behind by the defensive wall and Eto'o's shot that deflected wide, Martinez's men struggled to create any clear-cut openings.
That changed with 10 minutes left, though, when Eto'o put Lukaku in brilliantly and the Belgian unleashed a volley that Hart steered wide with his fingertips.
Everton pressed in vain in the final stages but City held out to leave the Blues rooted in the bottom half of the table with just one point from their last three League games.
For Sky's televised evening match at the Etihad, Ross Barkley was dropped to the bench after a series of lacklustre performances, while Sylvain Distin played his fourth match in nine days. Coleman, Hibbert and Baines all started with James McCarthy, Darron Gibson and Steven Naismith all out injured.
Some suggestion that Everton would play three at the back, with five defenders named, but Coleman started playing ahead of Hibbert to provide some proper width on the right, with Baines and Mirallas combining down the left, and Eto'o perhaps a little more withdrawn in the middle of the park...
There were some early rather robust challenges from Everton as they looked to defend their lines, Aguero getting sandwiched between Coleman and Besic and going down, clutching his knee. A long stoppage ended with Dzecko coming out to warm up.
Everton got some possession in a very open midfield but farted about with it until Mirallas gave the ball away cheaply and City ran away to win a corner. with 18-year-old Jose Pozo replacing Sergio Aguerio, who looked a forlorn figure as he hobbled slowly around the touchline, back to the dugout.
Lukaku looked lively, but was playing too wide, when he beat Zabaleta but, of course, no-one in the middle to cross to... Coleman got an early card for a rugby tackle on Clichy. City looked unsettled by losing Aguero but Everton failed to take advantage and the home side were soon pressing the Royal blues back toward Howard's goal.
Coleman was getting forward in his new role, and fed in a fair cross toward Lukaku, but not really posing any danger. Meanwhile, City won a dangerous free-kick some way out, that was nicely wasted!
Besic was next to lose the ball cheaply by farting about rather than advancing inot space with the ball at his feet, and Everton were again under pressure, a second corner, headed out by Eto'o as he was taken out by Mangala, a dreadful foot right into his lower back � yellow card... could perhaps have been red as it looked very poor.
Everton were backing off too much as City surged forward but Toure could only fire wide. A nice turnover on a poor clearance form Hart was spurned as Mirallas chose to go backwards rather than turn and attack with the ball, and City were attacking again, Jagielka with soft contact on Miner in the far corner of penalty area... Penalty! Poor from Jagielka as he bundled into Milner, giving Marriner little alternative but to point to the spot, kick duly converted by Toure, despite Howard guessing right and diving full length.
Fernando caught Barry on the head with a horrible high kick: yellow card. The game was pretty open after that, Everton doing better to get forward, but seemingly loosing the ball too easily, and retreating to give away the obligatory corner as City were now able to play more comfortably with their one-goal lead.
Sylvain Distin got in the way of a tremendous Nasri goalbound shot as City started to look more and more dominant, with Everton too unadventurous on the increasingly rare occasions when they did regain possession. Everton were guarding reasonably well off the ball but not really tackling or challenging effectively for the ball, relying on mistakes to get the turnover. They tried the long ball to Mirallas, but he caught the ball on his heel.
Finally, some proper penetration by Everton saw a couple crosses and a fierce Mirallas shot deflected for Everton's first corner of the game but wasted and the play was soon up the other end, another corner for City and a free header for DiMichelis, high and wide... Brief Everton possession before another shockingly cheap turnover in the middle and City pressing again, the ball ballooning up and onto the roof of the net as Yaya Toure rolled around in agony.
An advanced Everton throw-in led to some slightly better play that ended poorly with Barry well offside as 4 minutes were added before the break. Barry was well robbed and City fans were screaming for another penalty but Coleman had clearly chested the ball down.
Everton had another ineffective spell of possession outside of City's area but tellingly the quality was not there to construct, never mind finish a decent chance on goal,
No changes at the break and City were soon on the attack again. When Everton did win the ball, Distin played it long, straight to a City head and the pressure resumed. Breif Blues possession ended when Barry's forward pass to a closely marked Lukaku was lost and the Everton goal was under attack in seconds, Howard miraculously blocking a blistering finish by Pozo. A very poor first 5 mins for Everton.
Barry was slow into Milner, picking up his 5th yellow of the season, the 99th of his Premier League career. Mirallas close to a yellow for booting the ball away in anger after getting called offside again. Barkley structured something approaching an attack, Hibbert getting forward and Mirallas set to lash home, got totally underneath it. Barkley came on to replace Besic, rather than the ineffective Eto'o.
Everton won their second corner played high and too easily into the arms of Hart. At least it beat the first defender! But it meant the City were attacking again. Barkley was playing in the middle of the field, and was playing some lovely forward balls but their recipients struggled to do much with them, one to Mirallas almost getting a sight on goal, Fernando getting his body in the way of his final shot as Everton finally looked a match for their illustrious hosts until Eto'o ball as too much for Hibbert to trap.
But City just responded with even higher tempo, pressing Everton back. Barkley tried a long run, tripping over Zabaleta's foot at the end of it and City back on attack again, winning yet another corner. Mirallas got called for a foul but the danger was snuffed out. However, Lukaku couldn't keep the ball yet again, Barkley the out-ball but this time he turns back instead of running forward. On the next move, he did get Eto'o into the area, but Sam overran it, then Barkley set him up for a strike that was blocked wide but the short corner was wasted with another high cross gifted to Hart.
The next Everton attack summed everything up, with great advance play that suddenly stopped, ball played backward, impetus completely lost... maddening. But the move did win a free kick that Mirallas clipped off the top of the wall, the corner though was back to normal service, easily picked off by the first defender. Absolutely criminal, as City surged forward again.
Coleman was clearly fouled but nothing given by the homer ref, and Everton defending again, Baines doing well to block out any cross, at the expense of another corner. Barkley tried another run, giving Eto'o a chance to shoot from long range, high over the bar.
Lampard came on and played a clever reverse pass that allowed Dzeko to play in Milner who blasted over when it looked easier to score. Into the last 10 minutes, and still not one decent effort to speak of on Hart's goal, despite better outfield play by Everton. But that shot would come when Eto'o played a beautiful flick that Lukaku lashed goalward and was astounding to see his snap-shot parried away by Joe Hart, a tremendous save.
It was spoilt though by some really sloppy giveaways that soon allowed Nasri to fire straight at Howard, and really felt that Everton's single solitary chance had been repelled as it seemed to galvanize City up yet another gear, and teat another corner the reward.
Eto'o did well to fight off Toure but then lamely passed straight to a Sky Blue shirt. Everton attacked with more verve as is the custom with the clock ticking away. Toure booked for repeated fouls on Eto'o as Osman replaced Mirallas for the last couple of minutes, Milner getting treatment for a head wound.
Into 5 mins of added time and a much better corner whipped in by Barkley but all too little too late to change the destiny of teh 3 points. Barkley was finally getting hemmed in by City as he tried to make something happen from his favoured central position but it just wasn't happening for Everton, who no doubt will be lauded with glowing praise for their effort and energy when in truth it was never really enough to change the script, despite a very late corner taken by Eto'o.
Everton's performance was a lot better than recent games, mainly because they were given far more room to play the ball around than v Spurs and Hull. But the extra freedom was poorly used, with only one chance of any note that was repelled by Hart.
The Blues have lost just once in their last 10 games but have registered only three wins in their last seven Premier League games and failed to retain vital leads at White Hart Lane last Sunday and at home against Hull on Wednesday. After a rocky start to the Premier League campaign, Everton are still not near the kind of form that will carry them into the Champions League via the top four this season, leaving Roberto Martinez under what is arguably the greatest pressure he has felt in his tenure at Goodison Park so far to get his team performing.
A trip to the home of the reignin Champions, Manchester City, is not the kind of fixture you'd want under those circumstances, particularly as Manuel Pellegrini's men seem to have shaken off some patchy form of their own. Since picking up just one win six in all competitions between mid-October and mid-November, the Citizens have won four straight, including a remarkable turn-around against Bayern Munich in the Champions League where they won 3-2 to keep their hopes of qualification to the knockout round alive.
At the heart of their revival has been the scintiliating form of Sergio Aguero who has five goals in those last four games and already has 19 to his credit in all competitions this season. With Luis Suarez having deserted Anfield, the Argentine is unquestionably the Premier League's most dangerous striker and shackling him and shutting down the supply lines should be Everton's primary goal this weekend.
Martinez's best man for that particular job, James McCarthy, is highly unlikely to be available, though. The Irishman is continuing his rehabilitation from a recurrent hamstring problem and will sit out a third successive game but he has been deputised ably by Muhamed Besic who, while not as tenacious as McCarthy, has been demonstrating just why his manager made him a top transfer target over the summer. The Bosnian is visibly warming to life in the Premier League and was one of the few bright spots in the frustrating midweek draw against Hull.
He will partner Gareth Barry again, with the veteran midfielder now able to play against his old club after being ineligible to face them last season while he was on loan from the Etihad Stadium. Barry made an unexpectedly quick recovery from an ankle injury to return against Tottenham and also came through 90 minutes on Wednesday, albeit with some lingering rustiness.
Martinez has been further boosted by another early return to training in the form of Antolin Alcaraz. The Paraguayan was forced off with the injury half an hour into last month's draw at Swansea City but, after initial fears that he may need surgery were allayed, he returned to training a week ahead of schedule. He could come in to replace Sylvain Distin who, 10 days short of his 37th birthday, may find a fourth game in 9 days too much to handle.
While Alcaraz will boost the numbers available to Roberto Martinez, the manager told the media at his pre-match press conference that he will almost certainly be without Steven Naismith and Darron Gibson. Gibson suffered a setback on his return from a long-term knee injury playing for the Republic of Ireland in the middle of November and has had to face more time on the sidelines while Naismith is nursing a hamstring strain.
Steven Pienaar has been declared fully fit by Martinez, however. The South African made a disappointingly ineffective cameo as a substitute against Hull, something that has, unfortunately, been a theme for him for much of 2014 due to a succession of minor injuries that have prevented him from establishing any kind of rhythm. On his day, he could provide much of the creativity that has been lacking from the Blues' League performances of late, particularly if he can rediscover some of that magical understanding with Leighton Baines down the left flank.
Given how successful Everton have been in the Europa League this season where the likes of Kevin Mirallas and Romelu Lukaku have reveled in greater space than against more entrenched English defences, they may find the Etihad Stadium more accommodating for their expansive passing game. If Martinez can rouse his players out of any depression following two poor results and get his team humming again as an attacking force, they could cause City problems, particularly of the shaky Eliaquim Mangala plays alongside Vincent Kompany.
The likes of Stoke and CSKA Moscow, who have beaten Pellegrini's side on their turf this season, and QPR, who held them to a 2-2 draw at Loftus Road, have shown that City can be vulnerable when teams have a go at them. Obviously keeping the back door closed to threats like Aguero and Silva will be paramount so balancing defence and attack will be key to Everton's chances.
Evertonians go into this match at a low ebb, though, struck by an a dreaded feeling of deja vu at what appears at the moment to be another false dawn. It not be that way but the manager certainly faces a big task now if another tilt at the top four is going to materialise. Score a surprise victory in this one and the Hull display would be more readily forgotten but a creditable draw would be a good start with another should-win game looming when QPR come to Goodison on Monday week.
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