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Manchester City drew a blank for the second time this week to lose vital ground in the title race with a 0-0 draw against Norwich City.
Manuel Pellegrini's previously free-scoring side, who last month reached 100 goals in all competitions faster than any team in the Barclays Premier League era, have run into unforeseen problems in their last two outings, losing the league's top spot to Chelsea in the process.
A 1-0 loss at home to Jose Mourinho's side on Monday was compounded by another struggling display at Carrow Road. The absence of Brazilian midfielder Fernandinho due to a muscle strain was again keenly felt.
Alvaro Negredo headed a first-half corner against the crossbar but clear chances were in short supply as Norwich claimed an unexpected point in their fight for top-flight survival. A win would have taken the 2012 champions top after Arsenal's 5-1 thrashing at Anfield, but Chelsea are in the driving seat after easing past Newcastle 3-0.
On-loan Fenerbahce defender Joseph Yobo made his Norwich debut as a thigh injury ruled out Ryan Bennett. James Milner returned from a groin complaint to bolster the visitors' injury-hit midfield, while Stevan Jovetic got the nod over Edin Dzeko to make his second Barclays Premier League start of the season in attack.
A prone Yobo scrambled to safety as playmaker David Silva appeared poised to convert Gael Clichy's early cross for Pellegrin's men, but the recalled France full-back was caught out in the 16th minute.
Norwich winger burst Nathan Redmond burst into the box when Clichy failed to cut out Gary Hooper's pass but blazed high and wide.
Hooper had the ball in the net two minutes later but was lurking in an offside position after Joe Hart had parried Leroy Fer's header from a Redmond corner.
Manchester City came close from a similar dead-ball situation in the 36th minute – Negredo heading on to the crossbar following a Martin Demichelis flick-on from Jesus Navas's delivery.
Negredo crashed a rasping long-range shot into the side netting and, by the time John Ruddy kept out a stinging 20-yard strike from Jovetic in the 43rd minute, Pellegrini's charges were showing signs of hitting their stride.
Their customary rhythm remained largely elusive as the second half got under way, but Norwich full-back Martin Olsson produced an excellent last-ditch challenge to thwart Navas. Russell Martin then positioned himself well to stop Jovetic converting Milner's looping right-wing cross.
Ricky van Wolfswinkel arrived from the bench after 68 minutes in place of Hooper, who hobbled away from a robust Milner challenge, but Norwich had faded as an attacking force by that point, although their excellent organisation continued to confound the title hopefuls.
Dzeko, on for Jovetic, pulled a shot into the side netting at the end of another fruitless attack and Pellegrini was left to rue a golden opportunity missed, while Van Wolfswinkel and Anthony Pilkington were both agonisingly close to handing Norwich an unlikely triumph.
Norwich manager Chris Hughton: "It shows how important the result was when we are playing a team that can score goals as readily as they want but it's also the manner in which we finished the game.
"We had two good positions very late in the game and they could have seen us win the game. We defended very well and over the 90 minutes I thought we thoroughly deserved the draw."
Manchester City manager Manuel Pellegrini: "We are frustrated because we could not win, but we did all we could do but in front of us there was a team who defended very well.
"Our strikers Sergio Aguero, Alvaro Negredo and Edin Dzeko are not 100% fit so that's very important for the team. Every team will drop points, but we are still two points behind the leaders and we have 39 points to play for so we will continue the exactly the same."
|11 Feb 2014||v West Ham (A)|
|23 Feb 2014||v Spurs (H)|
|02 Mar 2014||v Aston Villa (A)|
|08 Mar 2014||v Stoke (H)|
|15 Mar 2014||v Southampton (A)|
|22 Mar 2014||v Sunderland (H)|