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Manchester City’s Barclays Premier League title hopes were dealt a potentially decisive blow as they suffered a shock 3-1 defeat at Southampton.
Man City goalkeeper Joe Hart admitted in the build-up that anything but victory at St Mary’s would all but end any their hopes of retaining the title, with leaders Manchester United already boasting a nine-point cushion, but Roberto Mancini’s got off to a disappointing start when they conceded a Jason Puncheon goal after just seven minutes.
Hart might have done better with the shot that led to the opener, and he will certainly want to forget Saints’s second, which came about when Rickie Lambert’s fierce drive squirmed through his grasp, enabling Steven Davis to bundle in from short range.
Edin Dzeko reduced the deficit as half-time approached, but just three minutes after the interval Gareth Barry passed into his own goal unchallenged to put Saints on course for their first win since Mauricio Pochettino replaced Nigel Adkins at the helm.
On the opening day of the season the newly-promoted side were valiant in a 3-2 defeat at the Etihad Stadium and it was a similarly end-to-end encounter down south, with Saints dominating the proceedings early on and taking a seventh-minute lead.
After Barry was dispossessed, Puncheon burst down the right flank and played through the unmarked Jay Rodriguez. Hart managed to deny the winger but the ball fell kindly for Puncheon, who slotted in calmly in front of the Northam End.
City were then rocked by a second Southampton goal in the 22nd minute, Lambert collected the ball on the right and played a neat one-two with Puncheon, before cutting back and firing a shot that Hart let slip through from his midriff, allowing Davis to poke home.
Rodriguez almost scored when he popped up unmarked in the penalty area to send a right-foot effort inches past the far post and as the home side pressed for a third, Nathaniel Clyne saw his strike deflect behind.
At the other end Pablo Zabaleta’s floated ball to the back post just evaded Aguero as City looked for a goal, which eventually came six minutes before half-time. The Bosnian striker got himself in the way of a Saints corner, before bursting upfield to finish off Pablo Zabaleta’s lung-busting run and cross.
Soon after the restart, Puncheon, who had hammered an attempt over moments into the second half, was unable to latch on to a Lambert pullback, but Barry did, inadvertently passing the ball into his own goal.
Gael Clichy was booked soon after as City’s frustrations became evident, with Saints pushing for a fourth. Indeed the visitors were having to defend with all they had and hope for a chance on the counterattack, with Artur Boruc reacting well to palm away an Aguero strike wide when they did venture forward.
James Milner, on moments earlier for Samir Nasri, shot wide from the resulting corner but City were soon back on the defence, which was supplemented by the introductions of Aleksandar Kolarov and Maicon, with the latter soon denied from close range by Boruc.
But City were kept at bay, meaning United could go 12 points clear at the top should they beat Everton on Sunday afternoon.
Southampton manager Mauricio Pochettino: “The key is all the work we put into it, and into all the matches. Today it has come together and the result has arrived. A victory only comes if you believe, but everybody here at Southampton believes. Today we believed. We should always believe.
“I have said before in the other matches against Everton, Manchester United and Wigan that we played well but didn’t get the points that we deserved. Today we played well and got those points that we deserved. It is clear that we wanted to break their ranks and stop the connections that they had between their players and that is what we did today which led to the win.
“The most important thing for me is that we now have two weeks to prepare and recover, and get the injured players back for Newcastle. If Sir Alex [Ferguson] sends me some wine I would be very grateful, but he doesn't have to if he doesn't want to."
Manchester City manager Roberto Mancini: "I am disappointed with our performance. They deserved to win. We didn't play well. We conceded a goal that I have never seen in my life. That's it. Now we can do nothing – only say congratulations to Southampton for their performance.
"I think [the players] understand that we played really bad. I think it's the worst game in the last two or three years, maybe. We're missing Vinny [Kompany] and missing [Matija] Nastasic, and we have some players who are not in form. They played really bad – without strength, without personality. I'm very disappointed in them."
"We have [a] 10 per cent [chance of winning the title], maybe."
|24 Feb 2013||v Newcastle (A)|
|02 Mar 2013||v QPR (H)|
|09 Mar 2013||v Norwich (A)|
|16 Mar 2013||v Liverpool (H)|
|30 Mar 2013||v Chelsea (H)|
|06 Apr 2013||v Reading (A)|