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Lukas Fabianski penalty save foils Manchester City to keep title race alive

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West Ham United's Lukasz Fabianski saves a late penalty from Manchester City's Riyad Mahrez at the London Stadium. Photo: Action Images via Reuters

West Ham United's Lukasz Fabianski saves a late penalty from Manchester City's Riyad Mahrez at the London Stadium. Photo: Action Images via Reuters

Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola feeling the strain during yesterday's draw with West Ham. Photo: Getty Images

Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola feeling the strain during yesterday's draw with West Ham. Photo: Getty Images

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West Ham United's Lukasz Fabianski saves a late penalty from Manchester City's Riyad Mahrez at the London Stadium. Photo: Action Images via Reuters

On 86 minutes, Riyad Mahrez had the chance to win the Premier League for Manchester City. He could have effectively ended it there. He could have sent City six points clear and with a goal difference eight better than Liverpool, even if they have two games in hand.

Mahrez could have taken away the stress, drama and uncertainty that we are deliciously anticipating on the final day but instead his penalty kick was saved by Lukas Fabianski and so there is the prospect of a genuine Super Sunday in which there might – just – be another twist.

If City defeat Aston Villa – Steven Gerrard’s Aston Villa as if anyone needed reminding, with Gerrard likely to field another Liverpool old boy in Philippe Coutinho – at home, they will be champions, and so their destiny is theirs to define. But if Liverpool defeat Southampton away tomorrow then anything short of victory at the Etihad might not be enough.

If City’s nerves were shredded by this game then what of Liverpool’s? They would not have dared to dream that West Ham, through the irrepressible Jarrod Bowen, would have claimed a 2-0 lead by half-time. They would have watched on disbelievingly at City’s frankly awful defending and they would have despaired as Pep Guardiola’s side mounted their stirring comeback, especially as they scored through a deflection and an own goal.

And there would have been anguish as West Ham failed to take chances to still go on and win it. In fact, this game was as dramatic as the penalty shoot-out that settled the FA Cup final.

It was emotional. It was draining and it certainly was chaotic as, in the end, City came back from two-down for the first time in a decade in the league and, therefore, showed the mark of the champions-elect that they continue to be.

There was further emotion for West Ham who said farewell to Mark Noble in what was the captain’s last home match as he retires after an 18-year career at the club. But, in the bigger picture, it was City who risked waving goodbye to the title.

If they had one hand on the trophy having destroyed Wolverhampton Wanderers last Wednesday – Liverpool’s last-day opponents at Anfield – then here they certainly risked letting it slip.

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There were tears from Noble, who came on as a second-half substitute and played his part, and how fitting it felt that he helped deliver European football for West Ham with this result for the second campaign in a row. Whether it is the Europa League or Conference League remains to be seen but West Ham and manager David Moyes are certainly deserving. It was a nice touch from Guardiola to bow down before Noble at the final whistle.

Just what was wrong with City? It was a defensive high line that was full of all sorts of kinks and so West Ham set traps. They ceded possession – they probably did not have much choice in that – but soaked it up and were absolutely lethal on the counter-attack in the first half.

Both of Bowen’s strikes came from Fabianski goal-kicks. For the first, Pablo Fornals shrewdly hooked the ball forward after Michail Antonio challenged Fernandinho, with Bowen running through. Aymeric Laporte played him onside and Bowen chested the ball down, rounded Ederson and finished brilliantly.

Then, on half-time, it was Tomas Soucek heading on Fabianski’s kick, with Antonio lifting the ball on for Bowen. This time it was Oleksandr Zinchenko at fault, and once again the finish was outstanding as Bowen ran on, steadied himself and with Fernandinho slow to close him down he shot low, through the defender’s legs and back across Ederson. Yet again Bowen pushed his case for an England call-up.

On the touchline, Guardiola looked utterly stunned. City had inevitably dominated but for all that they had not really threatened. They had 78 per cent possession in the opening period, they had 13 shots and they had pushed West Ham back but goalkeeper Fabianski was largely untroubled.

City now get the opportunity to complete the job instead in front of their own fans against Aston Villa on Sunday – assuming Liverpool get all three points tomorrow.

“Next week our stadium will be sold out, we will give them our lives and they will give theirs all together,” said Guardiola. “To do it is an incredible privilege, to have our chance with our people, to win one game and be champions. I’m looking forward to it.”

There was a sharp intake of breath as City scored early in the second half, with Rodri heading the ball to Jack Grealish on the edge of the area and his volley ricocheting up off Craig Dawson as he attempted to block to fly beyond Fabianski.

It fuelled their belief and they inevitably poured forward but the defending remained rank from Laporte and Zinchenko, with Bowen afforded another chance before shooting into the side-netting. And there was more, as Fernandinho woefully underhit a backpass straight to Antonio, who miscued awfully his attempt to chip Ederson. What a chance.

And, so, City capitalised. After Antonio fouled Laporte, the free-kick was swung across by Mahrez with Vladimir Coufal diving to intervene. Unfortunately for West Ham, the ball skimmed off his head and into the corner of the goal.

Just to show how fine the margins are, there was a significant touch from a defender at the other end, with Tomas Soucek directing a header to Bowen whose shot struck Laporte and diverted wide.

Then came the penalty, rightly awarded after a VAR check when Dawson caught Gabriel Jesus. Mahrez took the ball and it seemed over – the game and the title race – until Fabianski flung himself to his left to superbly turn the kick away. It is not over. Not yet. 

Telegraph Media Group Limited [2022]


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