England forward has scored late goals in each of his team's past three matches, with the latest on Wednesday night against Southampton.
Guardiola praises Sterling 'personality' as another late goal maintains Man City's lead atop Premier League
Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola highlighted Raheem Sterling's growing self-belief after his run of late goals continued with a superb stoppage-time winner in the 2-1 victory over Southampton.
City's quest for a 12th successive league victory seemed to be over when Oriel Romeu's 75th-minute equaliser for Southampton cancelled out Kevin De Bruyne's goal early in the second half at the Etihad Stadium on Wednesday.
But in sixth minute of added time, Sterling curled a brilliant shot into the top right-hand corner, sparking delirious scenes among City's fans, with Guardiola running onto the pitch in celebration.
City's last three victories have all been courtesy of late strikes from Sterling, who scored in the 88th minute against Feyenoord last week, the 84th against Huddersfield Town before his winner in the dying seconds against Southampton.
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"Before, he didn't believe. Now, he can do that," Guardiola said. "In the end, he had the personality to make the action, to put the ball there in the angle. It was a real fantastic goal."
Guardiola may land in trouble with the Football Association if referee Paul Tierney reports his dash onto the field following Sterling's winner.
"I apologised to the referee," Guardiola said. "He said 'you can't go there' and I said 'I know!'.
"I said 'I apologise', I couldn't control it. I was so happy, like all the fans, all the players. I wanted to run behind 'Rash' (Sterling) but I'm not fast enough!"
The scenes that greeted Sterling's third consecutive winning goal seemed excessive for a routine Premier League fixture.
City players sprinted to the far corner to continue their celebrations, with injured French full-back Benjamin Mendy, sidelined with a cruciate knee ligament injury, even hobbling half the length of the field from the bench to join in.
"Mendy's crazy! He has a six-month injury and he's running. Disaster!," Guardiola jokingly said.
With the Manchester derby at Old Trafford looming a week on Sunday, restoring their lead over United to eight points was hugely important to City.
"You have to enjoy these situations, you never know what will happen in the future," Guardiola said. "We want to win the league but you have to celebrate when you score in the last breath like that.
"What impresses the most is the heart with which they play. What happened in the locker room was amazing."
Southampton manager Mauricio Pellegrino, who once played in the same Barcelona side as Guardiola, was unimpressed by the amount of time added at the end of the match, although he was restrained in his complaint.
"I didn't see too many actions to delay the game," he said. "But it's part of the decision of the referee, I can't do anything about that."