Seven draws in their last nine games may have put Everton's top-four ambitions into a more realistic perspective, yet they remain a match for the leading teams and Marouane Fellaini on his own is capable of having a major impact on the season.
The Belgian scored the only goal when Manchester United were beaten at Goodison in the first round of this season's games, and the reason Sir Alex Ferguson banned several journalists for revealing that Rio Ferdinand would miss that match through injury was that he felt David Moyes used the information to promote Fellaini to a position further up the field.
He is still up there, playing as a secondary striker just behind Nikica Jelavic, and not only did his goal give Everton an early lead at the Etihad, David Platt admitted his presence on the pitch was the reason Manchester City persevered with Edin Dzeko when it was clear the Bosnian was not having one of his better days. City left the labouring Dzeko on until 10 minutes from the end, and heard boos from their own supporters when Carlos Tevez was withdrawn to make way for Sergio Agüero. "We needed height in the team because Everton are so dangerous from set pieces," the City assistant manager said. "Fellaini is a handful and Everton know if they get into certain areas and put good quality balls into the box he is a threat. We knew we had to make a change but you have to look at everything as a whole when you make a substitution."
Moyes revealed Fellaini was initially reluctant to play up front but is beginning to relish his free rein to terrorise defenders. "We haven't set him any targets in terms of goals but you can see he has the bit between his teeth at the moment," the Everton manager said. "I think he's actually enjoying playing the position now. There were questions about it at first but now he is realising he is getting recognised as a danger and that's a big part for us. We are playing with more confidence again. I thought the only thing we lacked against City was maybe a bit more imagination and quality in the final third. We needed someone to play the killer ball."
That was the story of the game, for City too lacked genuine creativity. This time last season, as Moyes pointed out, David Silva was the best player in the Premier League by a long way and City were flying. Here he was ineffective, if not quite anonymous, and City were pedestrian as a result. With Silva finding it difficult to penetrate a defence superbly marshalled by Phil Jagielka, the home side needed inspiration from somewhere else, but neither Yaya Touré nor Samir Nasri was able to come up with anything out of the ordinary and none of the striking combinations City tried were given enough ammunition to make a difference.
Everton's passing and movement had been superior in the first half hour and they deserved to go ahead, even if Joe Hart had hardly touched the ball before he was called upon to make a brilliant stop when a Leighton Baines cross reached Fellaini at the far post. The goalkeeper kept out the initial header but was powerless to prevent the striker's follow-up. Fellaini was also involved with City's controversial equaliser just before the interval, when Tevez scored from the penalty spot after he was adjudged to have pulled down Dzeko at a corner. It was a soft decision, to say the least, since both players were jostling with each other and Dzeko seemed to go to ground through choice rather than necessity. Moyes's dim view of the incident was not improved by misleading information from the fourth official that Leon Osman had been the guilty party, yet overall he was happy with a point and a continuation of his outstanding league record against Roberto Mancini – played seven, won five, lost one, drawn one.
"We've had a few bad draws recently but this was a good draw," he said. "Any team that comes here will find it tough because City are very good at keeping the ball and they have different strikers who can score in different ways."
City now find themselves three points behind Manchester United going into the derby on Sunday, though still unbeaten. With Chelsea losing more ground at West Ham, the title looks likely to stay in Manchester, though Platt was dismissive of suggestions of a two-horse race. "There's a bit of daylight between the top two and the rest, but it would be disrespectful to teams who could put a run together to say there is no one else in it," he said. "There's a lot of football to be played yet.We are unbeaten after 15 games but we haven't scored as many goals as we did last season and we haven't hit top gear yet on a consistent basis"
Man of the match Marouane Fellaini (Everton)