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Roberto Mancini was left bemused and angry in equal measure as Manchester City fans jeered his decision to substitute Carlos Tevez as they chased a late win against bogey team Everton.
Poor Mancini must wonder what he has to do to win the total trust of City’s fans. He delivered the title last season and the team remain unbeaten at home for nearly two years, having not lost for 21 Premier League games anywhere.
And yet they still booed around the Etihad when Tevez’s No 32 was held up midway through the second half as Mancini decided to pair substitute Sergio Aguero with Edin Dzeko, rather than keep all three on the field.
The fact Mancini produced a match-winning substitution against Wigan on Wednesday by taking off Aguero did not seem to gain him any credit with the supporters, and afterwards he seemed to be rather cheesed off with it.
‘I had my reason to change Carlo, I am not stupid,’ he smouldered.
‘I know the supporters would like to have four strikers on the field but football is not like this. You need defenders as well because Everton could score. They are always dangerous at set-pieces.’
Mancini has beaten Everton only once in seven attempts since he arrived in Manchester and they were probably the last League opponents he wanted before next Sunday’s blockbuster derby against United – the top two in the table.
Everton remain the last team to win at the Etihad, back in December 2010, and only a soft penalty equaliser awarded to City denied them a repeat success yesterday.
Referee Lee Probert decided Marouane Fellaini’s gentlest of contacts with Dzeko on the stroke of half-time was enough to justify the 6ft 4in Bosnian crashing to the floor as if his legs had been chopped off.
Tevez gratefully accepted the penalty gift, much to the fury of Everton boss David Moyes as it cancelled out Fellaini’s opener.
To add to the general confusion, Moyes was told by the fourth official the spot-kick had been awarded for a pull by Leon Osman, who had not touched anyone as David Silva’s corner hurtled towards Dzeko.
‘It was nowhere near a penalty kick,’ said Moyes.
‘I don’t how many penalties City have had at home recently but I’m told it’s quite a few. You can lose at Manchester City easily enough without decisions like that. It was a real soft one. If you give that, there would be penalty kicks every time there is a corner.’
But the Italian has other things to worry about with Sunday’s derby up next. Rarely can a group of supporters be more disenchanted given that they remain the only unbeaten team in England this season.
The flow of goals which marked the start of last season’s campaign is absent from their play with Aguero and Tevez struggling, Dzeko only scoring when he comes off the bench and Mario Balotelli’s goal at Wigan last week his first in the League this season.
How Mancini and every other Premier League manager would love Fellaini in their line-up. After a turgid opening half-hour, the giant Belgian broke the deadlock with his ninth goal of the campaign, meeting a Leighton Baines cross and then beating Pablo Zabaleta to the rebound after Joe Hart had parried, the final touch appearing to come off his knee.
Everton would have reached the interval ahead but for Dzeko’s theatrics. Dzeko seemed to move his arm towards Fellaini first as they jostled for a corner, and when the Everton player held his ground, the striker went over. Tevez saw Tim Howard dive left before driving the ball home down the middle.
Nikica Jelavic almost nicked it late on for Everton with a low free-kick tipped around the post by Hart.