Sport Soccer

Thursday 19 October 2017

Pellegrini hails 'useful' workout after Dzeko strike breaches dogged Palace defence

Manchester City 1 Crystal Palace 0

Joe Hart of Manchester City dives at the feet of Cameron Jerome of Crystal Palace
Joe Hart of Manchester City dives at the feet of Cameron Jerome of Crystal Palace
Manchester City's Joe Hart with a cut under his eye

Mark Ogden

If Manchester City are to sail through this season with a flawless home record in the Premier League, the regulars at the Etihad Stadium may have to strap themselves in for a bumpy ride should Crystal Palace prove to have offered a glimpse of things to come.

On the face of it, another 90 minutes brought another three points for Manuel Pellegrini's team on home soil, with Edin Dzeko's 66th-minute goal making it 10 wins out of 10 at the Etihad this season.

But having hit both Arsenal and Tottenham for six and put four goals past Manchester United and Newcastle in front of their own supporters, City toiled to victory by a solitary goal against a Palace team who, despite their defensive game plan, forced three important saves from Joe Hart.

Perhaps City have simply been too dominant at home for their own good, with Palace being the first opponents to attempt to frustrate Pellegrini's team by pulling down the shutters, manning the barricades and parking the bus, all at once.

"Maybe teams can do that," Pellegrini said. "It's their problem if they think it's the best way to play here. But we are not going to play every game after 44 hours' rest, which makes it impossible for the players to recover, especially after a game as tough as Liverpool.

"We are doing very well at home and must continue in the same way. The second half of the Premier League will be difficult for all of the teams, so it will be important to continue not to drop points at home and keep winning away."

Sustaining their peerless home form is crucial for City's hopes of winning the title. Despite a recent upturn on their travels, in the second half of the campaign they face all of the current top 10 apart from Chelsea and Southampton away.

The flip side is a home run including games against seven teams battling relegation, but as Palace highlighted, an opponent intent on damage limitation can often prove more difficult to overcome than one who is prepared to trade punches.

And at the Etihad, Pellegrini's team may find their own supporters inadvertently helping the opposition with every moan and gripe whenever City are not 3-0 ahead by half-time.

For Pellegrini, however, there was value in the manner of City's dogged victory, in terms of educating the players and fans about the importance of patience.

"It is useful to win this way," Pellegrini said. "I would prefer to win by three or four but, for the team, it is useful to win this way. I talked with the players at half-time and told them to be patient and continue to try and find the space, I knew it would be very difficult because teams like Crystal Palace are prepared to defend and they do it very well."

Such was Palace's defensive outlook, their supporters cheered their first corner of the game, two minutes before half-time, as if they had taken the lead. But Tony Pulis' team displayed greater ambition after the interval with Jason Puncheon, Mile Jedinak and Joel Ward all forcing Hart into evasive action. The England goalkeeper's performance was even more impressive considering he had five stitches inserted in a gash under his left eye following a first-half collision with Cameron Jerome, who suffered an ankle injury in the incident that ended his game.

Hart's heroics and Dzeko's goal -- a strike from 12 yards from a Jesus Navas pass -- proved enough for City, but Palace suggested they have what it takes to avoid relegation.

"We got beat at Chelsea by the odd goal and then won at Aston Villa as well as all the positives from this game," Pulis said.

"We've done well, so let's give it a good blast in the second half of the season." (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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