Sunday 18 August 2019

Sterling to the rescue as City pass toughest test

Huddersfield 1 Man City 2

Raheem Sterling celebrates after scoring City’s second goal against Huddersfield Photo: Getty
Raheem Sterling celebrates after scoring City’s second goal against Huddersfield Photo: Getty

Jason Burt

After a raw encounter that broke records and kept some formidable runs going, the most remarkable statistic was that this was the first time in 22 years - and at the 96th time of asking - that Manchester City had come from behind to win a Premier League away match in which they had trailed at half-time.

The sight of Pep Guardiola marching on to the pitch after the final whistle - immediately after Huddersfield Town's Rajiv van La Parra was sent off for an ugly challenge on Leroy Sane, who angrily shoved him in the face but was only booked - fist-pumping, bear-hugging and his face wreathed in a smile of relief, said it all.

Man City's Raheem Sterling is fouled by Jonas Lossl of Huddersfield Photo: Getty
Man City's Raheem Sterling is fouled by Jonas Lossl of Huddersfield Photo: Getty

This was possibly the hardest-fought win that City have had and Guardiola hailed it as such. He knew how much this meant to the title race as City re-established an eight-point lead and it proved his team can dig deep when they are not at their devastating best. And win.

Huddersfield did not have a shot on target, they had less than 21 per cent possession and barely strung two passes together in the second half. But they were extraordinarily committed, organised and resilient. They almost achieved a remarkable result to add to the scalp of Manchester United. The promoted side were magnificent, as were their equally relentless supporters.

It was Raheem Sterling who eventually turned it for City, earning the penalty that drew them level - despite the protests of Huddersfield fans that he had dived, which he had not - and scoring the winning goal.

It was a lucky strike with a low stabbed shot from substitute Gabriel Jesus that was saved, only for the ball to fortuitously rebound off Sterling's knee as he rushed forward, and loop up into the net. Sterling had also started the move.

Tom Ince and Christopher Schindler of Huddersfield Town celebrate after Nicolas Otamendi of Manchester City scored the an own goal Photo: Getty
Tom Ince and Christopher Schindler of Huddersfield Town celebrate after Nicolas Otamendi of Manchester City scored the an own goal Photo: Getty

By then Guardiola had withdrawn Vincent Kompany, had put on Jesus and was basically playing a 1-9 formation with Nicolas Otamendi his only defender.

Irresistible

For that alone he and City, perhaps, deserved this win, even if it felt desperately tough on Huddersfield. But City have so much going for them they are almost the irresistible force now. Even when David Silva and Kevin De Bruyne are not at their best, City can call on Sane and Sterling, who is a player transformed - robust, creative and able to take the chances he used to so maddeningly spurn. And he is only 22.

It was April 1995 the last time City overturned a half-time deficit on the road, against Blackburn Rovers, and in doing so here they became the first team to claim 37 points from their opening 13 Premier League games.

Only Liverpool, in 1990-91, have matched that tally. They also set an English record of 11 successive away wins in all competitions for a top-flight team. It was their 26th game unbeaten in all competitions, including the end of last season, and United's record of 33 matches, set in 1998-99, is now in their sights.

They had pushed hard throughout the first half. At times they tore through Huddersfield with only a last-ditch sliding tackle by the formidable Christopher Schindler denying Sergio Aguero, who was then thwarted by goalkeeper Jonas Lossl, with Sterling miscuing the rebound wide. There were other half-chances and spurned opportunities. But the home side stood firm.

Tactically they sat deep, knowing they would be starved of possession and then, on the stroke of half-time, they struck.

Tom Ince won a corner, and then another, as Kompany misdirected a header, and from it Schindler stole in at the near post to flick the ball goalwards. It ricocheted off Otamendi and flew in. There was nothing goalkeeper Ederson could do, although having De Bruyne marking Schindler was avoidable.

There was a sense of disbelief but, as the second half kicked off, the siege began. Sterling claimed a penalty after a collision with Lossl and then almost immediately afterwards he got beyond Scott Malone, who held him back. Sterling went to ground and referee Craig Pawson gave the penalty.

Aguero calmly sent Lossl the wrong way for his 180th City goal. It seemed only a matter of time before they went ahead and Sane bent a superb left-footed free-kick from 30 yards that thumped off the crossbar. But then they struggled.

Fernandinho was booked for an embarrassing dive, the game broke up, Pawson struggled for control and Huddersfield manager David Wagner was spoken to for his constant protests.

Suddenly the clock was running down. Guardiola implored his team forward.

Time and time again. It was late, very late, but they made the breakthrough through Sterling's rebound effort. Then it was Huddersfield suddenly trying to salvage a point, although the closest they came was from an Aaron Mooy free-kick that hit the side-netting.

So City had their win. They had the kind of performance, of result, of belief that is the mark of champions. They had come from behind. They had not folded. That was why Guardiola was on the pitch afterwards.

He knew how much this meant, which was testimony to his team. And to Huddersfield. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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