Manchester City 3 - 1 Everton (4-3 agg)
Having set off late and missed quite a portion of the league game at the Etihad earlier this month, we were much more covert for this one, all finishing work early and rendezvousing at Ste's around 4.20pm and were away with little fuss. My aim was to get to the M56 junction by 5pm, though we bettered that, actually reaching the M6 sub-5pm and were going too well until we hit the wall of traffic as we approached the dreaded Manchester City centre. On a dual carriageway one poor sod had broken down causing traffic chaos. You seldom see such anguish on a face as was shown by the owner of the broken down vehicle as the rain thrashed down. A few hours later our faces no doubt mirrored that of his.
Still, we made good time. From previous experience of parking at the main car park, I decided against it, instead having the bright idea of finding a space on someone's drive via Just Park and after my horrendous reversing skills we headed on to the pub, only to be confronted by the "NO AWAY FANS" stance at the door. That's something I loathe about many football grounds. Let fans mingle and don't treat us like crooks. It causes more harm than good.
Anyhow, it was now about an hour until kick off so we figured it be better to head into the ground and get a drink. Inside the atmosphere was pumping, fans were singing and swaying and beer was spraying. We were in buoyant mood.
We made our way into the stands and were towards the front left on the very top tier. As I looked around I don't know what was worse, the swathes of empty seats, the giant inflatable bananas, or, the phoney pyrotechnics as the teams were read out. I guess selling your soul is a price to pay for big money success. At least Manchester City HAD soul. At least they HAD character.
Anyway, I'm sounding bitter because I probably am. Onto the match and though under early pressure, we escaped forward a few times, once when a brilliant Gerard Deulofeu charge into their penalty area resulted in a last ditch block as he tried to square the ball, though it appeared to matter not when on 18 minutes Ross Barkley created some space and ran into it, not hesitating before hitting a crisp, low drive past Willy Caballero to give us what seemed a priceless goal and to put us two goals ahead on aggregate. It was jubilation amongst the supporters, Gary even unwittingly socking me in the mouth amidst the celebrations. Just what we needed.
We were holding firm to good effect also with Robles not really tested when Manchester City equalised but six minutes later. Incredibly we suffered from a wild deflection for the third successive game when Fernandinho, with what can only be described as a hit and hope struck from distance, only for the ball to deflect wildly off Leighton Baines and past Robles, given our goalkeeper no chance. It was a cruel blow for Everton though fate was to twist more cruelly later on. Sergio Aguero also struck the post for Manchester City in the first half but we got to the break at 1-1 and despite the set back the job was half done.
So often this season it has been a criticism of Everton that we start slowly and don't get going until the second half, though this time it felt as though we began well and then faded as the game wore on. Gerard Deulofeu missed our best opportunity to get back in front on the night when his drive from inside the penalty area was saved by Caballero. This was to be the last meaningful action of the game from Deulofeu as his immaturity and petulance got the better of him and he shortly made way for Arouna Kone, with James McCarthy also introduced into the midfield in some sort of mindblowing attempt, of sorts, from Robeto Martinez to batten down the hatches.
The substitutions didn't have the desired impact as Manchester City really began to turn the screw. David Silva had already also hit the post but as we got into the final 20 minutes of the game Manchester City were well on top. Still, we will never know what else we could have withstood if not for Martin Atkinson and his assistant to miss Raheem Sterling cutting the ball back with it well over the goal line. What should have been a goal kick to us ended up being a goal to Manchester City when Kevin De Bruyne finished to level the tie.
By this point Martin Atkinson was giving every feasible decision in the favour of the sky blues. He even gave a foul throw against John Stones when he didn't even throw the ball! I was disgusted also to hear Phil Jagielka's post-match interview when he was asked if he spoke to Atkinson. "I tried to" he said. "But I was arrogantly told that my defending was brilliant". It's hardly an isolated incident with Martin Atkinson and it's a wonder how he gets to officiate any big game, let alone big games involving ourselves given his chequered history with us. But what do the FA care? So long as the media darlings are victorious.
By now the momentum had shifted wildly and it almost felt like when, rather than if, Manchester City would grab another. It didn't take long, just another six minutes when a cross from De Bruyne was headed in far too easily by Aguero.
Still a goal would have taken us to extra time and we still had the best part of 20 minutes to do it. What was disappointing was that despite plenty of possession we created nothing by way of chances...only a few offside flags. Our crossing from Leighton Baines wasn't up to scratch and we just didn't get any momentum. Ross Barkley having to run off and change shirts a few times whilst they tried to fix what must have been a nose bleed certainly didn't help.
Leaving the ground there was more frustration. For some reason, probably some sort of crowd segregation rule, we couldn't simply walk back the way we came and had to go all the way around this fence just to go back on ourselves as we headed back to the car. When we finally arrived at the car someone had double parked us though didn't take long to arrive and move their car, and then we got stuck in the most horrendous of traffic, it took us a whole hour just to get towards the motorway. We barely spoke on the way home, we were all just so gutted. I suppose we have one last crack at something this season with the FA Cup.
It would be great just to get the rub of the green even maybe once but it just seems impossible for Everton. To be denied by a huge deflection and a goal which should not have been is tough to take. The better team won, no doubt about that, but we'll never know what would have happened, but it's Martin Atkinson and we shouldn't be at all surprised.
The result now gives added importance to Sunday's tricky trip to Carlisle. Defeat there and the wheels could well and truly come off this season, assuming they haven't already of course.
Robles: He generally did OK. Some distribution poor, some punches not great but I get the impression that if he had a run of games he might perhaps deliver the goods. With nothing much to play for other than the FA Cup now we mightaswell give him a go. It seems clear that Tim Howard is leaving in the summer so we mightaswell have a good look at what Robles is made of. 7
Baines: Defended pretty well but his attacking play wasn't quite up to scratch. 6
Funes Mori: A bit hit and miss. 6
Jagielka: Began the game well but we seemed to drag deeper and deeper as Man City probed and he perhaps could have held it together better. Easy to say from up in the crowd of course. 5
Stones: Though Sterling had already dribbled the ball out when he crossed it in for Manchester City's second goal, I always think Stones gets a bit too easily beaten on the outside. Not his greatest game. 5
Barry: Once again excellent. Seemed to suffer the defeat more than most, particularly against his former club. 8
Cleverley: Worked his nuts off and was the wrong side of poor Martin Atkinson decisions than most. 7
Osman: Put in a good hour before being replaced by McCarthy. 6
Deulofeu: We saw the good and the bad of Deulofeu. The good - when he ran at Manchester City a few times and created chances. The bad, when once he missed his chance he became petulant and seemingly disinterested, at one point arguing with Martinez. I wish he'd stop that holding his face dive also. It hasn't worked once so I don't know why he's persisting with it and it's plain embarrassing. 5
Barkley: Did very well and was involved throughout. One of the bright sparks in a poor campaign. Took his goal very well. It was unfortunate he was absent for much of the finale as he might, perhaps have made the difference. 7
Lukaku: He ran hard but was desperately short of service for much of the game. 6
Kone: Tried and got involved but created nothing unfortunately. 6
McCarthy: Didn't get involved quite as much as we hoped. Struggled to get into the game. 5
Coleman: Was a strange substitution at that stage of the game. Surely gambling with Lennon would have been a better option? 5