Saturday 24 February 2018

City show it's never too late

Barry nets vital injury time winner

Paul Wilson at Etihad Stadium

Manchester City left it late to reduce the gap at the top of the Premier League to three points, but Gareth Barry's controversial stoppage-time winner put the pressure back on Manchester United to pick up three points at Swansea today or have their advantage cut in the title race.

For 90 undistinguished minutes it appeared City were going to hand the neighbours an early and unexpected Christmas present. Had Reading held out, a United win would have opened up an eight-point gap going into the festive period, and Alex Ferguson would not have found anything under his Christmas tree as welcome as that.

But taking a leaf from their rivals' title-winning manual City keep going these days. "Even in the final seconds we still wanted to win," said City's manager Roberto Mancini.

"I think we deserved to win by more, but I have to be happy at the concentration and determination we showed. We are tired after playing a lot of games, we had big players missing, but we kept going to the end and got our reward."

Reading's defeat confirms they will be bottom of the table on Christmas Day, a relegation pointer very few teams have managed to confound, and Brian McDermott's mood was not improved by the manner in which Barry climbed all over Nicky Shorey to reach David Silva's cross, even though City felt the Reading player had invited him to do so by staying on the ground and backing into his opponent.

"The goal was an absolute joke but we are a small club and key decisions don't always go our way," McDermott said. "In fact, they rarely go our way, but though we are disappointed I thought everybody could see the spirit in the group today. We still have 20 games to save ourselves, and we have two home games coming up."

Mario Balotelli did not attend the game after being left out of the squad, though his manager was relaxed about his striker being photographed driving his distinctive camouflaged Bentley around Manchester. "He was meant to be having a day off, he couldn't train so he couldn't play," Mancini said.

"But I can't lock him in his house."

Arsene Wenger will enjoy a happy Christmas after Arsenal rose to third in the table for the first time since September after winning 1-0 at Wigan, while Tottenham were held 0-0 at home by Stoke.

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