Stu­art Bren­nan

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PEP Guardi­ola learned a lot about the na­ture of his City team as they scrapped their way back into a game that was nearly ru­ined by a hor­ri­ble ref­er­ee­ing de­ci­sion.

With the dis­missal of Kyle Walker in the first half, it seemed the Ever­ton jinx had re­turned to haunt the Blues – with of­fi­cial Bobby Madley cast as the chief witch doc­tor.

But in the end that un­just ad­ver­sity brought the best out of City, and out of Guardi­ola.

He re­placed play­ers, and he re-jigged fre­quently, and it worked.

Ra­heem Ster­ling led that fight­back, his own brand of di­rect, break­neck run­ning at the de­fence un­set­tling and dis­rupt­ing the vis­i­tors’ back four.

And af­ter the un­pre­dictable Eng­land winger had skied one great chance, he made up for it by slam­ming home an equal­is­ing vol­ley to bring the Blues level.

From there, they could have, per­haps should have, won it – es­pe­cially when Madley also dis­missed Morgan Sch­nei­der­lin for a sec­ond yel­low card, also harsh, but noth­ing like the in­jus­tice that ru­ined Walker’s home de­but. What the of­fi­cial saw – or thought he saw – as Walker and Do­minic Calvert-Lewin tus­sled to get un­der a high ball, is any­body’s guess.

What­ever it was, Madley deemed to be wor­thy of sec­ond yel­low card.

But Guardi­ola could not dwell on the va­garies of such de­ci­sions, as he had prob­lems of his own.

City were al­ready a goal down when Walker got his march­ing or­ders, al­though they had in­creas­ingly looked like they would score as Ser­gio Aguero un­char­ac­ter­is­ti­cally hes­i­tated with the goal at his mercy, while David Silva struck a post.

It was a mi­cro­cosm of last sea­son – chances go­ing beg­ging at one end and the de­fence look­ing un­sure at the other.

The video of Wayne Rooney’s goal will get a few re­plays, but the cul­prits were sev­eral.

Guardi­ola had re­sub­mit­ted his teamsheet af­ter it ini­tially in­cluded Danilo at left wing-back, hastily chang­ing it to Leroy Sane.

Whether that was a lit­tle ploy to hide the fact that Sane was in that role un­til the last mo­ment, we will never know.

If it was, it didn’t work, as Ever­ton at­tacked that flank re­lent­lessly.

And when they har­ried the young Ger­man into an er­ror, it proved fa­tal.

Calvert-Lewin then tempted Fer­nand­inho into a rash slide af­ter Vin­cent Kom­pany had hes­i­tated to deal with him, and the young­ster crossed for Rooney to fire a shot through Eder­son’s legs.

City’s re­sponse was valiant against an Ever­ton side that barely showed any more am­bi­tion against 10 men, and the three subs – Ster­ling, Danilo and Bernardo Silva – all played a sig­nif­i­cant part.

In the end, Ma­son Hol­gate’s clear­ance fell per­fectly for Ster­ling and he glee­fully crashed his vol­ley back past Jor­dan Pick­ford.

It felt like a win, and Guardi­ola cel­e­brated it as such. ●●

Ra­heem Ster­ling scores City’s equaliser

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