Manchester City secured a gripping 3-2 win at Everton to go top of the Barclays Premier League and take pole position in the title race.
In a thrilling encounter at Goodison Park, City did enough to claim three points and edge ahead of Liverpool by virtue of a superior goal difference. Manuel Pellegrini's men can all but guarantee a second Barclays Premier League title in three seasons by winning their remaining matches, at home to Aston Villa and West Ham United.
Ross Barkley opened the scoring for the hosts with a remarkable long-range effort, but City hit back exploiting Evertons left-hand side. Antolin Alcaraz was pulled out of position as Sergio Aguero levelled matters and the visitors were scarcely affected despite the Argentinian hobbling out of the action shortly afterwards.
Edin Dzeko scored either side of half-time but City allowed the action to drift and Romelu Lukaku put Everton back into the contest with a 65th-minute header. A breathless finale ensued, yet City rallied to hang on in the city where their title dreams suffered a seemingly telling blow in a 3-2 defeat by Liverpool three weeks ago.
City made an enterprising start, with Aguero often the architect, but Everton took a 10th-minute lead in sensational fashion. England’s FIFA World Cup hopeful Barkley brought Goodison Park to its feet by curling Steven Naismith's lay-off into the top corner from 25 yards.
Yaya Toure brushed Leon Osman aside to blast over after 16 minutes, while Barkley jinked past Javier Garcia and Martin Demichelis at the other end to prompt a magnificent last-ditch tackle from Vincent Kompany. Perhaps inspired by their captain's heroics, City drew level in the 21st minute.
Centre-back Alcaraz was drawn towards Toure, who slipped a pass though for Aguero to blast beyond Tim Howard at his near post. However, in the act of scoring, Aguero appeared to sustain another leg problem and the striker was replaced by Fernandinho.
The upshot was an advanced role for Toure and Phil Jagielka stabbed uncomfortably out of the goalmouth after the towering Ivorian wrought havoc down the Everton left. It was proving a fruitful region for City and they moved ahead two minutes before half-time by exploiting the channel once more.
Howard thwarted Dzeko from an acute angle but when the ball was worked out to James Milner the Bosnia striker was alive to the possibilities and headed home from his team-mate's pinpoint cross.
Everton had a glorious chance to draw level within a minute of the restart as Barkley stormed forward and Naismith shrugged off Pablo Zabaleta, but Joe Hart made a stunning low save to deny the Scotland forward.
In a similar response to the one following Kompany's earlier brilliance, City streamed up field to give themselves breathing space. Fernandinho sublimely controlled the attack and found Samir Nasri, whose low centre was turned in by Dzeko for City's 150th goal in all competitions this term.
Faced with the seemingly routine prospect of closing out a decisive win, City faded and Lukaku reduced the arrears when he stooped to convert Leighton Baines' arching cross.
Zabaleta and Demichelis went close to adding a fourth for City while Everton substitute Gerard Deulofeu rippled the side netting after cutting through the visitors with a mazy run.
A lengthy period of treatment for a shoulder injury to Dzeko brought about six minutes of stoppage time, but he would ultimately remain the hero.
Everton’s defeat meant that Arsenal are assured of the final UEFA Champions League qualifying place.
Everton manager Roberto Martinez: "Everyone that watched the game understood straight away that if anyone questioned our integrity - not just as a football team but as a football club - they had not reason to do it. The effort, the character of the players, the intention of winning the game was clear for everyone to see from the first second until the last.
"The way we celebrated Ross Barkley's goal is as big a roar as you got at Goodison for the whole season. So I'm proud of the football club that we were very much a team wanting to win. I think it's clear that we tried absolutely everything to beat this Man City side."
"We tried to win a football game and I think it's fair to say that we didn't deserve to lose the game."
Man City manager Manuel Pellegrini: "We have to play teams [Aston Villa and West Ham] who are not fighting for anything, they can play without pressure. We must try to win our last two games at home, then we will see what happens."
"We won and at this moment the most important thing is to win. Today the pressure was maybe too high to play our best football. We played well until 3-2, maybe at that moment the team was a bit nervous.
"We started one goal down and we played good football to recover from that goal. We managed the game, we scored three and had chances."
|11 May 2014||v Hull (A)|
|30 Nov 2014||v Spurs (A)|
|03 Dec 2014||v Everton (H)|
|06 Dec 2014||v Man City (A)|
|15 Dec 2014||v Everton (H)|
|20 Dec 2014||v Southampton (A)|