Middlesbrough cry foul after penalty gives City lifeline
Middlesbrough 2 Manchester City 2
Middlesbrough's Marten de Roon led the complaints over the controversial penalty that provided Manchester City with a route back into this game when it was in danger of slipping away from them, following manager Pep Guardiola's surprise decision to leave out Leroy Sane and Raheem Sterling.
It represented a major gamble by Guardiola and was in danger of backfiring - and leaving him open to more criticism about his decisions - as relegation-threatened Middlesbrough led 1-0 midway through the second-half.
Sane and Sterling had already been sent on as the City manager acknowledged his mistake just five minutes after the interval.
Then, with Middlesbrough looking capable of holding on to their lead, Sane went down under a challenge from De Roon. He reacted furiously when referee Kevin Friend awarded a penalty, which was converted by Sergio Aguero (right).
"It was an unbelievable decision from the referee," said De Roon, who had to be held back by team-mates as he tried to confront the official.
"It was never a penalty. I go to him, but I don't step into him. I stayed in the same place.
"Of course, my leg goes a little bit wide because I want to block if he puts a cross in. But if you see where the ball is, he lost the ball, so he falls into me.
"I cannot go anywhere because I stand there. If I tackle him or anything, I'd say it's a penalty. But I couldn't go anywhere. The ref had a very good position to see it.
"It was clever, but I think a referee has to know if someone is clever or someone tries to get something out of it. If the ball went past me, and he walks through me and the leg is there, it's probably a clearer penalty. But the ball goes somewhere else and he then falls into me.
"I have been fooled. Of course it feels unfair. I couldn't do anything else. The ref had a clear view. I told him he would watch it back and he would see it's not a penalty."
There were to be further goals, but Friend's decision was the turning point.
Guardiola preferred to steer clear of the issue, declaring: "I don't complain about the penalties that have happened to us in the season. It could be a long list, so we are fair in our judgements."
His judgement was less impressive when it came to team selection, as he sent out a revamped team that failed to create any first-half chances after Aguero drilled a shot across goal after 45 seconds.
Middlesbrough went ahead through City's former forward Alvaro Negredo at the end of a splendid move in the 38th minute.
City increased the tempo, with Sane and Sterling, but needed the penalty to draw level. They soon trailed again as Calum Chambers scored from close range after Willy Caballero failed to hold Downing's free-kick in the 78th minute.
Once more, Middlesbrough could not hold on to their lead and Gabriel Jesus earned City a point with his 85th-minute header.
"I think we deserved to win, definitely. In the second-half we made absolutely everything and they only crossed the line twice, while we created a lot of chances," said Guardiola, failing to recognise Middlesbrough's excellent contribution to the game.
"We will try until the last game, and we have three at home now, and they will decide if we deserve to be in the Champions League next season.
"Today it was in our hands to get the third position. A good result is winning, but at 1-0 it was complicated so I'm satisfied."
City will find out today if they will have Aguero available for their remaining matches. The Argentinian went off in stoppage time and Guardiola fears he has a groin injury, although it may not be serious.
Middlesbrough will be relegated if they lose at Chelsea next Monday and Hull avoid defeat on Saturday.
"I think the performance just showed the determination and the fighting spirit of the squad," said manager Steve Agnew.
"We are looking forward to Chelsea. Six points behind with three games left and a good goal difference. I think the players will take a lot of confidence going into Chelsea, having played so well." © Daily Telegraph, London.