Manchester City failed to win for the fifth time in succession on Sunday, as they were held to a 1-1 draw by Southampton in Premier League action at the Etihad Stadium.
The first half was all about City defender John Stones, as his error allowed Nathan Redmond to steal in and open the scoring for Saints. Stones thought he’d equalised soon after but saw his header ruled out for offside.
Kelechi Iheanacho was introduced as a second-half substitute by manager Pep Guardiola and quickly had City back on level terms. However, the home side couldn’t find a winner.
With captain Vincent Kompany and top scorer Sergio Aguero back in the side, a fast City start wouldn’t have been surprising. But there was a hesitancy about the home team’s play early on, resembling an outfit that had failed to win in their last four outings.
Southampton were pressing high up the pitch, and although that did allow Guardiola’s side space in the final third, there were nerves in the City defence and from Stones especially.
After 27 minutes, the centre-back sought to knock the ball back to Kompany. But the skipper darted forward as the ball was played, allowing Redmond space to latch on to the loose ball in behind, round Claudio Bravo and put Southampton ahead.
Redmond celebrates putting Southampton ahead.
While the opener was a defensive horror show from City, Jonny Singer of the Daily Mail praised the ruthlessness from Redmond:
Yes, that’s ugly from Stones, but what a finish. Redmond looking so good this season!
— Jonny Singer (@Jonny_Singer) October 23, 2016
With the Etihad Stadium stunned, Stones looked as though he’d attained immediate redemption, prodding home Kevin De Bruyne’s fizzing free-kick at the back post. The youngster peeled off in celebration but was unaware the linesman had his flag raised for offside.
It capped a frustrating first period for City, who were limited to very little in attack by the diligentvisitors. Indeed, as Mark Clattenburg blew for half-time, there was a cacophony of boos around the Etihad.
Sports journalist Liam Canning was unsure whether the performance from City warranted that kind of reaction:
City fans booing as the half-time whistle blows. Jesus. Try life under LVG – then you’re permitted to boo.
— Liam Canning (@LiamPaulCanning) October 23, 2016
Guardiola evidently wasn’t pleased either, as he withdrew De Bruyne and thrust Iheanacho into the fray in the second period. And just as he so often does, the youngster had a decisive impact from the bench.
City were level quickly after the break.
It was a wonderful goal, too. In the 55th minute Fernandinho swept an excellent pass out to the left flank to Leroy Sane. The young German poked a low ball across the penalty area, and Iheanacho stole a march on Virgil van Dijk to to make it 1-1.
As we can see here courtesy of Squawka Football, the Nigeria international is so clinical when given a chance:
Kelechi Iheanacho has now scored 11 goals from 17 shots on target in the Premier League. Instant impact. pic.twitter.com/EEG6pbOeIW
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) October 23, 2016
Suddenly, the Etihad was abuzz with positivity, with the men in sky blue piling forward in search of a second goal. However, Southampton were doing their utmost to dig in, with goalkeeper Fraser Forster pulling off stops from Ilkay Gundogan and David Silva.
The visitors still posed a threat on the break, though, and Claudio Bravo was called upon 15 minutes from time when Charlie Austin thumped a shot towards goal from the edge of the box; the three points were undoubtedly there for the taking for either side in the latter stages.
Aguero had endured a quiet afternoon, but he did burst into life with an excellent run into the box as the clock ticked down. However, he could only flash his left-footed shot wide of the post, squandering the best chance either side could conjure in what were frantic final minutes.
Guardiola’s side failed to win for the fifth game in a row.
Guardiola will have to answer more questions about his style in the aftermath of this game, with Stones’ slack approach on the ball giving City a mountain to climb in this one. Despite their dominance of the ball and persistent probing, it was a setback they ultimately were unable to recover from.
Southampton deserve great credit for this display. Claude Puel’s side faced Inter Milan in the San Siro on Thursday in the UEFA Europa League and wouldn’t have had too much time to prepare for this one. The organisation they operated with is a testament to the application of those that are thriving under the the new regime.
Reaction to follow…