MANCHESTER: Nolito’s header saved a point for a dominant Manchester City side as the Premier League leaders had two penalties saved in a 1-1 draw at home to Everton yesterday. Everton’s Romelu Lukaku scored on the break 19 minutes into the second half after Ronald Koeman’s visitors had absorbed sustained pressure Everton goalkeeper Maarten Stekelenburg, who had saved a firsthalf penalty from Kevin De Bruyne, then blocked another from Sergio Aguero. But the goalkeeper was finally beaten as Nolito, on as a substitute for only a minute, headed in David Silva’s cross in the 72nd minute.
The match promised to be a fascinating contest between Koeman and City manager Pep Guardiola, who were room-mates and close friends when they played together in Barcelona’s 1992 European Cup-winning side. However, it was a frustrating first half for most of those inside the stadium, and quite a few outside it too. Several hundred home supporters were still streaming into the ground more than 20 minutes after kick-off, as a result of increased security checks at the turnstiles by Showsec, the company which manages City’s matchday security.
Those who got to their seats late missed little, as the home side failed to make a significantly larger share of possession count. Leroy Sane, playing as a right-wing-back, made a couple of impressive early runs that stretched Everton, forcing Stekelenburg to beat away a shot at the near post, and seeing a penalty appeal rejected after he tumbled over Bryan Oviedo’s trailing leg. Guardiola’s decision to field three centre-halves and two wing-backs seemed designed to give his team added width, but they found it difficult to break down the visitors. The opening period saw Everton right-back Seamus Coleman somehow escaping a yellow card when he clattered into Raheem Sterling, getting some of the ball and a lot of his opponent’s ankle.
The second significant moment arrived two minutes before half-time, when Silva’s quick feet tricked Phil Jagielka into a foul, and the concession of a penalty. With leading scorer Aguero on the bench, De Bruyne took the kick, but Stekelenburg dived to his left to beat the ball away. Having reached the interval without conceding, Everton posed a greater threat in the second half. Gerard Deulofeu, receiving the ball after a break by Yannick Bolasie, cut in from the left past Nicolas Otamendi and forced goalkeeper Claudio Bravo to tip over a rising shot.
However, City were soon in the ascendancy once more, and Stekelenburg reacted well with his foot to keep out Kelechi Iheanacho’s near-post drag-back from Sane’s cross. Guardiola, seeking additional attacking impetus, sent on Aguero for Iheanacho, while Koeman responded by replacing the skilful yet lightweight Deulofeu with James McCarthy. Within minutes, Everton led. Lukaku, a quiet figure up to that point, laid a pass back for Ashley Williams to hit long, then collected Bolasie’s touch on to run at Gael Clichy from the left, beating the defender before finishing with a clinical low shot inside the far post. City responded, and quickly won a second penalty as Jagielka brought down Aguero. But the striker, who missed from the spot for Argentina against Paraguay in a World Cup qualifying defeat earlier this week, failed again as Stekelenburg dived to his left to push the ball out.
It was only a temporary reprieve for the visitors, however, as Nolito, just on as a substitute, rose to head in Silva’s cross, with what may well have been his first touch. Stekelenburg was still to shine again as City chased a winner. The former Fulham and Southampton goalkeeper leapt athletically to his left to tip a first-time De Bruyne shot on to the post. — AFP