Two dropped points may mean little in the context of Manchester City’s yawning 14-point lead at the head of the table, but the chasing pack can at least draw comfort from the knowledge that Pep Guardiola’s side are fallible after all, writes Ian Winrow
CRYSTAL PALACE 0 MANCHESTER CITY 0
For the first time since they were held by Everton in the second game of the season, City failed to win, bringing to an end a sequence of 18 successive league victories, a Premier League record.
And it would have been worse had Ederson, the goalkeeper, not preserved his side’s 21-game unbeaten start to the campaign by saving Luka Milivojevic’s penalty after Wilfried Zaha had been brought down by Raheem Sterling in the final minute of normal time.
There was still a significant cost for Guardiola to bear, though, with Gabriel Jesus and Kevin De Bruyne both stretchered off.
Jesus is expected to be out for some time after suffering a knee injury following an awkward fall while De Bruyne, the outstanding player in the Premier League this season, was fortunate to escape serious injury after being hacked to the ground by Jason Puncheon as City broke immediately after the penalty, prompting the City manager to demand players be afforded more
“Please, referees, they have to protect players,” said Guardiola. “We were lucky against Tottenham and against Newcastle. Today we were not lucky. Referees have to protect. We know how strong physically it is England but teams miss big players, not just Manchester City. The replay speaks for itself. People focus on diving, this kind of thing. But we have to protect players.
“I admire the physicality in the Premier League but the referees have to protect the players. Not just the best players. All the players. I haven’t spoken to the FA about it. They focus on diving on these kind of things.
"Here is a line where you go above and it is dangerous. I know the contact is allowed here more than any other country but there is a limit. They don’t have to change the way here. That’s why it is so nice.”
Guardiola had few complaints with the result itself, conceding his side had struggled to get going in the first half before taking control in the second. The Catalan knew the winning run would end at some stage and repeated his assertion that a defeat was inevitable before the end of the league campaign.
“We knew we could drop two points. That is normal in football,” he said. “Eighteen wins in a row, that is not normal, unreal. So we set the record for the Premier League, 18 games in a row, so the next one to try to beat that it will not be easy. But we are in December and there are a lot of fixtures to play.”
Asked if City could match the record of Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal side that remained unbeaten 14 years ago, Guardiola added: “I swear to you, that is not going to happen. I’m not thinking about being invincible. I tell Arsene, that brand is for him. We have a lot of competitions, a lot of games.”
Palace manager Roy Hodgson had insisted beforehand that the key to getting something out of the game lay in hard work, defensive organisation, and taking any opportunity that came his side’s way.
Fortunately for the manager, he side fulfilled the first two criteria sufficiently well that Milivojevic’s miss didn’t mean they ended the day empty-handed.
In fact, Palace’s success in withstanding City’s early pressure before taking the game to the visitors meant there were growing signs of frustration among Guardiola’s players before the break.
After the restart, the leaders started to dominate but Wayne Hennessey kept Hodgson’s side in it with a close range save from Leroy Sane and City were unable to create enough clear chances despite playing most of the second period in the home half.
It was Hodgson, though, who had the biggest cause for regret. “It’s frustrating of course, but it was a good save from the penalty,” said the manager. “It’s better to concentrate on our performance and how well we played.
"I have to give the players an enormous pat on the back for how they played. To be brutally honest, with five or six minutes to go, I was thinking ‘make sure we don’t lose the game’.
“Wilf did brilliantly to provoke it, but unfortunately we didn’t take advantage. I may think differently at the end of season, but now I’m inclined to say well done to my players.”
CRYSTAL PALACE (4-4-2):
Hennessey 7; Riedewald 7, Dann 6 (Kelly 19, 8), Tomkins 8, van Aanholt 7; Townsend 6, Cabaye 7 (Puncheon 75,6; Lee 90), Milivojevic 7, Fosu-Mensah 7; Zaha 9, Benteke 6.
Subs not used:
Speroni, Souare, Kaikai, Delaney.
MANCHESTER CITY (4-3-3):
Ederson 8; Walker 6, Mangala 6, Otamendi 7, Danilo 6; De Bruyne 8, Fernandinho 7, Gundogan 6 (Sterling 57,6); B Silva 6 (Toure 81), Jesus 6 (Aguero 23, 6), Sane 5.
Subs not used:
Bravo, Stones, Sterling, Adarabioyo, Zinchenko,.
Jon Moss 6
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