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Jan 16, 2010

Robinho not working out at City

Steven Pienaar scored a free kick of enviable accuracy, Louis Saha a penalty of nonchalant cool and yet the biggest cheer at Goodison Park may have greeted Dean Whitestone, or, to be precise, his electronic board. While Shaun Wright-Phillips prepared to come on, fourth official Whitestone keyed in the No.10. Robinho was being replaced.

• Mancini: Everton outplayed us
• Everton 2-0 Manchester City

The substitute was being substituted. The most expensive player in the history of English football was deemed unsuitable either to start or finish the game. The ignominy of it. Thousands of scousers duly rose to their feet to give him what they deemed an appropriate send-off. Robinho stalked off down the tunnel.

Its significance was immediately apparent: if the initial expectation was that, as a similarly talented fantasista, Roberto Mancini might empathise with the Brazilian, this was a sign that 52 minutes of the Brazilian's lethargy was enough. Flair does not provide a certificate of exemption from all other duties. Shirking his tackles and outpaced by an energetic Everton side, Robinho was lacklustre.

On a day when Everton's record signing, Marouane Fellaini, was exceptional, City's was awful. Brought on in the first few minutes, he was brought off after an hour. Mancini is rapidly discovering which players he can rely upon. Robinho does not fall into that category.

"If I want to put another forward [on] it is normal that I take one off," said Mancini. "I thought Robinho." Asked if it was the £32 million man's last game, he replied: "Robinho is a good player but it is the same situation for Robinho as other players. All the players, they must play well."

Few in white did that - "Everton played better than us," admitted Mancini - but some at least attempted to. Comparing Carlos Tevez and Robinho may be unfair. The former automatically appears industrious, while the latter has a languid gait. When Mancini was about to replace Tevez, who appeared to have a hamstring injury, the top scorer gestured that he wanted to stay on. He did.

Tevez could not extend his scoring run, nor City their sequence of wins under Mancini, but he has a brand of conspicuous commitment that allows supporters to associate themselves with him. While Robinho pocketed £160,000 for another week's 'work', the Argentine's salary invites less jealousy. He tries.

So, too, do the entirety of the Everton side. Physical and forceful but with a dash of invention and a deftness of touch, they were outstanding. Pity the man of the match adjudicators when Fellaini, Pienaar, Saha and Leighton Baines presented such compelling cases and when Tim Cahill and Diniyar Bilyaletdinov also excelled.

"I think you'd find it hard to talk about who was not excellent today," Moyes added. For him, a wrong had been righted. His programme notes condemned an unflattering appraisal of City's conduct when they signed Joleon Lescott. After the Evertonians chorused "Lescott, what's the score?," their manager said: "You enjoy wins when you feel you've not been treated right. It was something that didn't help the start of the season."

The second half is shaping up rather better than the first. "If it wasn't for our bad start, we'd be right in the mix for fourth. I think I've got a team far better than the position we're in," said the Everton manager. It was hard to disagree. The increasingly influential Pienaar broke the deadlock, curling a free kick past a despairing Given after Pablo Zabaleta had fouled Saha.

The Frenchman doubled the advantage calmly after Micah Richards tugged him back. "If this is a penalty, there are five, six, seven, eight penalties every game," said Mancini. "You can't disagree with the decision," Moyes said.

In any case, the eventual scoreline flattered City. First Fellaini, with Given clawing the ball brilliantly on to the bar, and then Cahill struck the woodwork in quick succession. The Belgian and Bilyaletdinov came close with fierce shots. Landon Donovan, on an accomplished home debut, threatened to score as well.

And no sooner had City been mentioned as title contenders, then an unwanted reality check was supplied. Typical City, it might be said, though their manager is intent on downgrading expectations. "I never think we will win the title," Mancini added. "We can arrive in the top four; this is a target. I think I am not a magician, I am a manager."

MAN OF THE MATCH: Marouane Fellaini
Outstanding in the air, strong in the tackle and impressive in possession, he was the pick of a very fine Everton team. He also produced the defining moment, a pirouette away from Craig Bellamy to embarrass the former Liverpool player. After spending much of his first season as an auxiliary attacker, the Belgian appears to have found his vocation in front of the back four.

EVERTON VERDICT: This continued their fine form. Unlucky not to defeat Arsenal last week and having already drawn with Tottenham and Chelsea, Moyes' men finally claimed a major scalp. It was a comprehensive display from the 11 men selected though, as the manager noted, it was another group of ingénues on the bench. There may be light at the end of the tunnel. "We'll have some competition for places soon which really excites me," Moyes said.

MANCHESTER CITY VERDICT: It was much their poorest display under Mancini against much the finest side he has encountered in England. Although Moyes is unsympathetic, he was complaining about injuries. With Roque Santa Cruz out, it leaves little room for manoeuvre ahead of Tuesday's Manchester derby. But after tonight's display, he surely can't opt for Robinho to replace Santa Cruz then.

DONOVAN VERDICT: The on-loan man was overshadowed by some of his new colleagues, but it was another performance to please his manager. "He deserved the ovation in the last minute [when he was substituted]," said Moyes. "You can see why he's considered arguably America's best player."

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