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Aguero heroics too little too late for Man City

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Manchester City goalkeeper Joe Hart’s last-gasp header goes just wide of the post as Roberto Mancini's men crashed out of the Europa League last night

Manchester City goalkeeper Joe Hart’s last-gasp header goes just wide of the post as Roberto Mancini's men crashed out of the Europa League last night

Manchester City goalkeeper Joe Hart’s last-gasp header goes just wide of the post as Roberto Mancini's men crashed out of the Europa League last night

Manchester City goalkeeper Joe Hart’s last-gasp header goes just wide of the post as Roberto Mancini's men crashed out of the Europa League last night

The keeper reacts after the miss

The keeper reacts after the miss

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Manchester City goalkeeper Joe Hart’s last-gasp header goes just wide of the post as Roberto Mancini's men crashed out of the Europa League last night

Welcome to Madchester. Three goals down -- needing to score four to survive -- and facing Europa League humiliation, only a 95th-minute save from a Joe Hart header denied Manchester City a passage to the quarter-finals.

Just like Manchester United, City will not take their place in today's draw for the last eight of the Europa League, but Roberto Mancini's team almost pulled off a stunning fightback.

Trailing 3-0 on aggregate at half-time after Matias Fernandez and Ricky van Wolfswinkel had added to Xandao's first-leg goal, it looked all over for City.

But two Sergio Aguero goals and a Mario Balotelli penalty, prior to Hart's late header, almost won it for City.

Although United's elimination at the hands of Athletic Bilbao, confirmed just minutes before City kicked off against Sporting, ensured Alex Ferguson's players would no longer be distracted by Thursday night commitments during the title run-in, old habits die hard in these parts and news of their downfall prompted a loud cheer around the Etihad.

Mancini's pre-match insistence that City could cope with the demands of a dual assault on silverware appeared genuine, though.

The Italian subscribes to the theory that success breeds success and, with such a multi-talented and ambitious squad, why should City not embrace the challenge of winning both the Premier League and Europa League?

City's sluggish start suggested Mancini's players did not quite share their manager's approach to potential fixture congestion.

Quite simply, City were flat. Yaya Toure was booked for hurling a ball away in frustration at conceding a free-kick and Balotelli, having been denied at the far post by Anderson Polga, kicked the dead ball so hard that it almost hit the roof of the stadium.

Passes went astray and the fleet-footed Sporting were quick to capitalise, with Fernandez and Diego Capel both making the most of any mistakes committed by the home side.

The Portuguese were supposed to be poor travellers and a pale imitation of the team that won on home turf last week. But they were the team that wanted to win this tie.

Brazilian defender Xandao almost opened the second-leg scoring on eight minutes when he narrowly headed over from an in-swinging corner. Shortly afterwards, Chilean Fernandez was booked for diving, but he eventually made his mark on 34 minutes when he scored the opener.

A needless challenge by Balotelli on full-back Emiliano Insua, 20 yards from goal, resulted in a free-kick and, with the diminutive David Pizarro stood at the end of the wall, Fernandez curled his set-piece beyond the Hart to put Sporting 2-0 ahead on aggregate. City now needed to score three to save the tie, but their mountain grew on 41 minutes when Sporting scored again.

Van Wolfswinkel, understood to be the reason for Kenny Dalglish's scouting trip to the Etihad, netted at the far post from two yards after being teed up by Marat Izmailov.

So poor was their first-half performance that City were booed off at half-time, yet the sight of the players emerging from the tunnel at the end of the interval prompted a defiant roar from the home crowd.

Mancini had clearly not given up, although replacing winger Adam Johnson for holding midfielder Nigel de Jong at half-time was an odd move.

But, by the time Aguero turned and guided Micah Richards' cross past goalkeeper Rui Patricio after the hour, City were starting to run out of steam.

The goal at least gave City the impetus to believe. Samir Nasri's introduction ensured City now had a four-pronged strike-force and Sporting could not escape their defensive third.

But City still required three and, as the clock ticked towards 75 minutes, all hope appeared lost. A foul by substitute Renato Neto on Aguero resulted in a penalty, however, and Balotelli, nerveless as usual, slotted home.

The miracle was on and, when Aguero volleyed in at the far post on 82 minutes following Edin Dzeko's flick from Aleksandar Kolarov's corner, just one more goal required. City, however, simply ran out of time. (© Daily Telegraph, London)