Premier League - Everton dent Man City ambitions
Yaya Toure gave City the lead in a first half they dominated but Everton owned the second period, bravely throwing on an extra striker as Sylvain Distin and Leon Osman scored with headers while Roberto Mancini again paid for his negativity away from home.
The Italian tactician has seen wins turn to draws and draws become defeats in a season blighted by his obsession with using a five-man midfield, even when goals are required.
This time he waited until the 81st minute to throw on a second striker, over a quarter of an hour after Everton had equalised and nine minutes after they had taken the lead.
The result leaves City in fourth, seven points clear of Tottenham and Liverpool, who play later this weekend, while Everton cement their hold on seventh after taking six points off Mancini's side this season, having won by the same scoreline at Eastlands.
A win would have put City on the brink of sealing fourth place but Mancini stuck with his usual away policy of packing the midfield, leaving Mario Balotelli and Adam Johnson on the bench as the more artisan Edin Dzeko and James Milner were preferred.
Initially they created more chances than usual, with most of the danger coming from the excellent David Silva, who almost scored a wonderful ninth-minute goal when his superb first touch bought space for a low drive that beat Tim Howard but went wide.
Two minutes later and Silva was involved again, this time delivering a volleyed first-time ball while running into the left, a pass of a brilliance matched by Patrick Vieira’s ineptitude in the finish: from four yards he managed to blast over.
Everton, meanwhile, were toiling, seeing plenty of possession but with only Victor Anichebe to aim at as their midfield seemed reluctant to take risks.
Just before the half hour, City got a deserved breakthrough with Silva the architect again as he flicked the ball in the air before playing the deftest of passes to Toure, who smashed home the finish from a difficult angle.
The game opened up at both ends: after a Leighton Baines free-kick ricocheted off the wall, Rodwell’s finish deflected just wide, while Beckford turned provider when he sent Baines through, the England left-back falling as he finished weakly at Joe Hart, apparently under pressure from Pablo Zabaleta.
City, meanwhile, were denied a second through some super shot-stopping by Howard, who kept out Toure when put one-on-one by Silva, and tipped away Dzeko’s looping header.
It was end-to-end-stuff as both sides attacked with relative abandon, Anichebe fluffing his lines when Rodwell played him in and, on the break, Dzeko firing just wide.
Everton got the breakthrough when, seconds after Tim Cahill came off the bench, the Australian won a free-kick which Arteta swung on to the head of Distin, with Hart possibly at fault for letting the powerful downwards finish squirm in off his right hand.
The Toffees were throwing everything at City and they had successive penalty appeals waved away when Beckford and Cahill went down in the box.
It mattered not as, seconds later, Osman somehow beat Vincent Kompany to Neville’s excellent cross, his Olympian leap above a much taller man was matched by a superb looping header beyond Hart and in.
Everton’s leveller came on 65 minutes and their second seven Everton-dominated minutes later: yet Mancini did not see fit to bring Balotelli and Johnson into the game until the last 10 minutes, after Everton had almost netted a third when Beckford was denied by Hart at point-blank range.
It is that kind of tactical conservatism that arguably sees City fighting for fourth place when they should be challenging for the title: to win the Premier League you have to at least aim to win your matches.
Predictably the latter stages were all City as they bombarded the Everton goal but the closest they game was a Milner shot that deflected off Baines and flew over.