Late strike from Burnley’s Ashley Barnes puts halt to Manchester City’s win streak
Manchester // Their place in history was beckoning.
Manchester City had already equalled their best run of nine straight wins.
Then, with a clinical swing of Ashley Barnes’ right boot, there was no perfect 10th.
Gone was the chance to remove Harry Newbould’s team of 1909 and Roberto Mancini’s side of 2011 from the records. Gone, too, the invitation to close the gap on leaders Chelsea to one point.
It amounted to a squandered opportunity for City.
Two goals in front, at home and facing relegation favourites featuring nine players who plied their trade in the Championship last season, they really should have won.
Arguably they ought to have thrashed Burnley, whose annual wage bill is less than the cost of Eliaquim Mangala, the £40 million defender (Dh 228m) whose reputation was not enhanced in an afternoon of unnecessary clumsiness.
Yet a combination of City’s sloppiness and Burnley’s relentlessness brought the Clarets a reward they richly deserved.
“They are super-fit,” manager Sean Dyche said. So they proved.
They played the same starting 11 deployed against Liverpool 48 hours earlier, made no substitutions, fought back to draw at the home of the champions and were pushing for a winner in the closing minutes.
Much as fault can, and should, be found with City, they deserve huge credit.
Manuel Pellegrini argued that Burnley’s first goal, scored by George Boyd, was offside.
Yet Joe Hart was culpable, too, allowing the winger’s shot to squirm under him when he applied a slight touch to Danny Ings’s effort.
It was the second game in a row when Hart has been at fault for a goal; his new contract has not spurred him on to better form.
It set the tone for a second half of City inertia. “Maybe winning 2-0, we thought the game was over,” said Pellegrini, in a tacit admission of complacency.
It was combined with Burnley pressing and pressure, culminating in Barnes’ rifled leveller when Pellegrini’s team failed to clear Kieran Trippier’s free kick.
“A sublime finish,” Dyche said. “That is one of the best centre-forward performances I have seen for a long, long time.”
It was one of the more memorable comebacks, too. Coming two days after an unmerited defeat to Liverpool, this comeback encapsulated their spirit.
“We are not struggling,” said Dyche, railing at perceptions of his side. City can testify to that.
The champions should have been in cruise control. “We played very well in the first half,” Pellegrini said.
Whereas their title challenge last year was propelled by professional goalscorers, others have supplied a finishing touch of late.
David Silva has flourished in the absence of specialist strikers, a creator standing in as a finisher. He delivered his fourth goal in three games – or as many as Edin Dzeko has mustered all season – from Jesus Navas’s cutback, and he has set about answering one of the few criticisms levelled at him.
The Spaniard has been an infrequent scorer, but, installed as a No 10, he has found a clinical touch.
Then Fernandinho scored a goal from the sidelined Yaya Toure’s handbook, curling a shot in off the underside of the bar.
At that stage, City were not missing the injured Ivorian, who has a minor groin problem.
An hour later, they were. It was scant consolation that they have met Pellegrini’s target of 22 points from their last eight games. It is a distinct improvement on their return of 21 from the first 11.
“We finished the first round with 43 points,” the Chilean said. “That is a good amount of points.” But it could, and should, have been 45.
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Published: December 28, 2014 04:00 AM