London: Manchester City's fingertip hold on their Premier League title was loosened further after a demoralising 2-0 defeat at Everton on Saturday left them hoping for a footballing miracle. Leon Osman's swerving 32nd-minute shot put Everton in front at a raucous Goodison Park and, even though the home side were reduced to 10 men when Steven Pienaar was red-carded for a rash tackle on the hour, City could not reply.
Substitute Nikica Jelavic sealed victory in stoppage time on the counter-attack after being set up by Marouane Fellaini, to leave City 12 points behing leaders Manchester United, who host joint-bottom Reading later on Saturday. A week after being booed and heckled by their own fans in an embarrassing 3-0 FA Cup defeat at home to struggling Wigan Athletic, Everton produced a gutsy performance to remain in contention for a top-four finish.
Victory lifted David Moyes's team into fifth place, a point above Arsenal, who are away at Swansea City (1500) and four behind fourth-placed Chelsea. "It was disappointing last week (in their defeat by Wigan) but we showed when we are at the races we are a match for any team," Osman, who is in the England squad for next week's World Cup qualifiers, told Sky Sports. "It's difficult to play with 10 against any team, especially the champions, but we kept them at bay."
Osman's strike to break the deadlock was a special one. Receiving the ball from Seamus Coleman 25 metres from goal, Osman lashed a shot that flew past England keeper Joe Hart and bulged the netting. Carlos Tevez went close to an equaliser with a shot just wide of the post but City were missing the drive of Yaya Toure in midfield as Everton dominated. City showed more desire after the break and were pressing hard for an equaliser when Pienaar raked his studs down the shin of Javi Garcia, who had earlier squandered a close-range chance.
The inevitable red card merely raised Everton to greater efforts, with second-choice keeper Jan Mucha exemplifying their commitment with a great double save from Tevez and James Milner. City were denied a late penalty when Tevez's shot was blocked by the arm of Fellaini in the penalty area, with the referee ruling it had been outside the box and awarding only a free kick, which came to nothing.
Jelavic's stoppage-time effort made it a dark day for City manager Roberto Mancini, who declined to give his post-match television interview, instead sending out assistant David Platt. "He's angry and he's taking stock of it," Platt said. "He wants to calm down rather than say anything that will get him into trouble. He's angry in general.
"We got outworked by Everton, but there is no doubt in my mind about the handball. "It was three yards inside the area and though perhaps the performance didn't deserve it, that's by the by. "Perhaps we could have got a bit more out of it if that decision had gone for us."