Wednesday 17 January 2018

Aguero keeps City in the hunt after heroics from Hart

M'gladbach 1-2 Man City

Sergio Aguero celebrates scoring Man City's second goal from the penalty spot
Sergio Aguero celebrates scoring Man City's second goal from the penalty spot
Manchester City's Nicolas Otamendi, left, scores his side's first goal
Martin Demichelis has his header cleared off the line by Borussia Monchengladbach's Julian Korb before Nicolas Otamendi scored for Man City from the rebound
Sergio Aguero scores from the penalty spot

Mark Ogden

Maybe Manchester City are finally learning how to survive in the Champions League.

Outplayed for an hour by Borussia Monchengladbach and rescued once again by the goalkeeper heroics of Joe Hart, Manuel Pellegrini's team emerged from Borussia-Park with a crucial victory that has put the club back in firm control of their Group D destiny.

Nicolas Otamendi's 66th-minute equaliser, after Martin Demichelis' initial shot appeared to have crossed the line, followed by Sergio Aguero's 90th-minute penalty proved enough to overturn Lars Stindl's opener for the hosts and claim a remarkable win for City.

Not so long ago, they would have crumbled after suffering the blow of falling behind after such sustained pressure, but on this occasion, they pulled it out of the fire.

Some victories ultimately carry greater significance than the simple three points and this one, perhaps, will prove to be the fork in City's Champions League road.

Having endured a potentially costly 2-1 defeat at home against Juventus in their Group D opener two weeks ago, City's need for a-decisive response against Monchengladbach was without question.

But no Champions League trip to Germany can ever be regarded as without its challenges and, aside from facing a resurgent home team who had secured two successive victories under their interim coach Andre Schubert, City also had to overcome the sense of occasion that had whipped Borussia Park into a pre-match frenzy.

Monchengladbach's status as one of the Bundesliga's traditional power-houses has taken a battering since their Seventies heyday, when the club won five domestic titles and two Uefa Cups, as well as -enduring a European Cup final defeat against Liverpool.

However, the home fans had vowed to turn their stadium into a "witches' cauldron" for the visit of Manuel Pellegrini's team.

It was certainly noisy, and colourful, but it was always going to be the intensity on the pitch, rather than off it, which would most likely knock City off their stride.

And City's nervy start hinted at yet another away-day disappointment, with Raffael going close to opening the scoring for Monchengladbach when he shot wide from a tight -angle in the third minute Pellegrini's team responded immediately, however, and Aguero was denied an opener only by the heroics of the goalkeeper Yann Sommer, who somehow kept out the Argentine's close-range -effort at the far post.

It was another example of City failing to be clinical in the Champions League, though, and the open nature of the game suggested that, at some point, they would pay the price. That moment almost came on 10 minutes when Monchengladbach hit City on the counter-attack after Kevin De Bruyne's sliced -volley from 20 yards enabled Raffael and Patrick Herrmann to sprint deep into opposition territory.

Raffael's lay-off found Herrmann just inside the City penalty area, but the midfielder's left-foot shot was directed just wide of Hart's far post. The near-miss highlighted two things Monchengladbach's breathtaking pace on the counter and Yaya Toure's peerless ability to fall short in his defensive duties.

Fortunately for City, Hart was one having one of those nights that he often has in the Champions League, with only the England goalkeeper denying the German club a commanding half-time lead.

Hart's save from Raffael's 18 minute penalty, after Otamendi's raised leg had tripped the forward, was a crucial moment, but his subsequent saves from Herrman and Raffael, once again, were just as important.


On both occasions, the strength of Hart's left arm denied Monchengladbach with two reflex saves when a goal appeared inevitable. But City were riding their luck, never more so than when referee Clement Turpin denied Monchengladbach a penalty after Fernandinho's foul had upended Stindl four minutes before half-time.

Having seen his team overrun by Monchengladbach during the first-half, Pellegrini replaced Toure with Fernando at half-time in an effort to tighten up in midfield, but the second-half was only 60 seconds old before Hart was called into action again to keep out the home side.

Raffael was Hart's victim yet again as the City keeper palmed away the forward's strike, which had been destined for the far corner, but Hart was helpless when Stindl deservedly gave Monchengladbach the lead on 54 minutes.

Aleksandar Kolarov abandoned his left-back post to create the space for Julian Korb to burst into the penalty area.

Korb could have taken a shot, but he unselfishly pulled the ball back for Stindl, whose composed right-foot finish from 12 yards gave Hart no chance.

Otamendi's intervention and Aguero's penalty turned the game on its head, though, and City now face a double header with Sevilla which will almost certainly decide their fate in Group D.

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