WALK­ING A THIN LINE

Man City still in the hunt for Cham­pi­ons League place

New Straits Times - - Sport -

MID­DLES­BROUGH

MANCH­ESTER City can look for­ward to a run of three suc­ces­sive home games af­ter just do­ing enough to re­main on track for a place in next sea­son’s Cham­pi­ons League fol­low­ing Sun­day’s 2-2 draw away to Premier League strug­glers Mid­dles­brough.

Pep Guardi­ola’s men had to twice come from be­hind to earn a point at the River­side, with the draw help­ing them re­main fourth — the last Cham­pi­ons League qual­i­fy­ing spot on of­fer to English clubs — in the table, a point and a place above Manch­ester United.

City man­ager Guardi­ola de­served to take much of the blame for an un­con­vinc­ing dis­play in the north­east, with the Span­ish boss mak­ing changes that in­cluded leav­ing Leroy Sane and Ra­heem Ster­ling on the bench un­til the 50th minute.

It was a bold move by Guardi­ola and he al­most paid a price as City, lack­ing the pace and mo­bil­ity of the miss­ing pair, strug­gled to make an im­pact and were trail­ing mid­way through the sec­ond-half to a goal from their for­mer for­ward, Al­varo Ne­gredo.

The game changed dra­mat­i­cally, though, when ref­eree Kevin Friend awarded a penalty for a chal­lenge by Marten de Roon on Sane, who “went down very, very eas­ily“, ac­cord­ing to Boro care­taker-man­ager Steve Agnew.

De Roon, the Dutch mid­fielder, was far less diplo­matic. “It was an un­be­liev­able de­ci­sion from the ref­eree,” he said. “It was never a penalty. I go to him, but I don’t step into him. I stayed in the same place.

“It was clever, but I think a ref­eree has to know if some­one is clever or some­one tries to get some­thing out of it. If the ball went past me, and he walks through me and the leg is there, it’s prob­a­bly a clearer penalty.”

He added: “I have been fooled. Of course it feels un­fair. I couldn’t do any­thing else. The ref had a clear view. I told him he would watch it back and he would see it’s not a penalty.”

Sane told Guardi­ola that it was def­i­nitely a foul, but the man­ager would only say: “I don’t com­plain about the penal­ties that have hap­pened to us in the sea­son. It could be a long list, so we are fair in our judge­ments.”

Ser­gio Aguero’s goal from the spot set up a tense 20 min­utes when Calum Cham­bers put Mid­dles­brough ahead again be­fore Gabriel Je­sus, one of the play­ers drafted in by Guardi­ola, earned a point with an 85th minute header.

“I think we de­served to win — def­i­nitely. In the sec­ond half we made ab­so­lutely ev­ery­thing and they only crossed the line twice while we cre­ated a lot chances,” said Guardi­ola.

“Now we will try un­til the last game and we have three at home now and they will de­cide if we de­serve to be in the Cham­pi­ons League next sea­son.”

Those home games are against Crys­tal Palace, Le­ices­ter City and West Bromwich Al­bion be­fore City fin­ish their sea­son at Wat­ford. It is a run-in that should of­fer them enough chances to con­firm a top four fin­ish.

Mid­dles­brough, in con­trast, re­main in the bot­tom three and, by the time they go to lead­ers Chelsea on Mon­day, may need to win to avoid rel­e­ga­tion.

“I think this per­for­mance just showed the de­ter­mi­na­tion and the fight­ing spirit of the squad. That was ev­i­dent against one of the top teams in the coun­try,” Agnew said.

“We are look­ing for­ward to Chelsea,” he added.

“Six points be­hind with three games left and a good goal dif­fer­ence. I think the play­ers will take a lot of con­fi­dence go­ing into Chelsea hav­ing played so well against Manch­ester City.” AFP must hope his side live up to the club’s motto of “Arte Et La­bore” — by skill and by labour — at Brent­ford. AFP

REUTERS PIC

Mid­dles­brough’s Marten De Roon con­cedes a penalty af­ter bring­ing down Man City’s Leroy Sane on Sun­day.

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