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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 23 February 2019

Manchester City title hopes hit by shock defeat at Newcastle

Salomon Rondon and a Matt Ritchie penalty caused the shock after Sergio Aguero had scored after 24 seconds

Newcastle forward Salomon Rondon celebrates after scoring the first Newcastle goal. GETTY
Newcastle forward Salomon Rondon celebrates after scoring the first Newcastle goal. GETTY

Manchester City’s hopes of retaining their Premier League title suffered a potentially grievous blow as struggling Newcastle United earned a remarkable 2-1 comeback win over the champions at St James’ Park on Tuesday.

City were far from their rampant best but a goal after 24 seconds from Sergio Aguero had looked set to ease them on their way to a victory that would have put them within a point of leaders Liverpool.

Instead, Newcastle, who have been labouring just above the relegation zone, hit back in the most unlikely fashion after halftime, with a goal from Salomon Rondon and an 80th minute penalty by Matt Ritchie that now elevates them to 14th.

It meant an end to the fantastic start to the New Year for Pep Guardiola’s champions, who had looked ready to win their eighth straight match in 2019 once Aguero had scored the quickest goal of the season in any Premier League match.

Liverpool host Leicester City on Wednesday, with the prospect of moving seven points clear of City if they win, leaving Guardiola to ponder what now looks an increasingly tall order for his side to successfully defend the title.

“Well, it was difficult so we knew we needed to win a lot of games because the advantage was not huge [before the match] but it’s still there and we have to continue,” Guardiola told BT Sport.

“In football, many things can happen but the most important thing is to do what we have to do. If we don’t, we can lose, because football today is so competitive.”

Of City’s curiously flat performance, he added: “It wasn’t our best. We started with the goal, but all the game we didn’t have the rhythm that we need to impose our game. We had the chances.”

Newcastle’s well-laid plans were immediately shredded by their perennial tormentor Aguero, who volleyed his 15th goal in 13 league games against Newcastle when set up by David Silva’s brave far post header after the Spaniard lost his footing.

Aguero had a second effort ruled out after latching on to a free kick that Kevin De Bruyne was ruled to have taken without waiting for the referee’s whistle – a misdemeanour that saw the Belgian booked.

But Guardiola did not complain about the goal being disallowed, as City failed to pose many threats to the Newcastle goal and paid for their sluggish form despite dominating possession.

Rondon took advantage of City’s unconvincing efforts to clear their lines in the 66th minute, instinctively hooking the ball home after Isaac Hayden had headed goalwards.

Fernandinho was City’s careless culprit for the second goal, getting robbed in his own box while aiming a poor backpass towards goalkeeper Ederson and bringing down Sean Longstaff in the process.

Ritchie had a long wait while Ederson was treated for an injury but was cool enough from the spot to send the home fans into ecstasy.

Newcastle’s badly-needed win during a period of turbulence at the north-east club saw the fans’ protests against owner Mike Ashley dampened for a night and had manager Rafa Benitez hailing his players’ spirit.

“To get three points this way, the players played for the shirt, the fans and for everyone,” he said. “They give everything every game, and the fans appreciate that.”

Updated: January 30, 2019 03:56 AM

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