It’s not even December and already we have what feels like the first truly decisive moment of the Premier League season. Raheem Sterling has already surpassed expectations this campaign but this was truly an earth shuddering moment.
There was hardly a second left on the clock in added time. Southampton had come from behind to hold Manchester City at 1-1 and it seemed as though the home team’s lead at the top of the table was about to shrink from six to eight points.
With a game at second placed Manchester United to come a week on Sunday, there was a possibility of significant change in the wind. City had not played very well in winning at Huddersfield at the weekend and they had not played very well here.
Raheem Sterling scored an injury-time winner for Manchester City as they beat Southampton 2-1 in the Premier League
The England forward curled the ball home on 96 minutes to secure all three points for the home side on Wednesday night
Pep Guardiola and the Manchester City squad celebrate after Sterling’s goal secured victory deep into stoppage time
Oriol Romeu netted with 15 minutes to play as Southampton came from a goal down but still lost 2-1 at the Etihad
The central midfielder turned home from close range after nice work in the build up by team-mate Sofiane Boufal
Romeu celebrates his equaliser for Mauricio Pellegrino’s visitors. The goal was not enough to earn a point, however
MATCH FACTS, RATINGS, TABLE AND MATCHZONE
Manchester City (4-3-3):
Ederson; Walker, Kompany, Otamendi, Delph; Fernandinho, De Bruyne, Gundogan (Bernardo Silva 80); Sterling, Aguero, Jesus (Silva 74)
Subs not used: Bravo, Danilo, Mangala, Zinchenko, Diaz
Goals: De Bruyne 47, Sterling 90
Bookings: Kompany 37
Manager: Pep Guardiola
Forster; Soares (McQueen 87), Yoshida, van Dijk, Hoedt, Bertrand; Hojbjerg (Boufal 64), Romeu, Lemina; Redmond, Long (Austin 83)
Subs not used: Davis, Tadic, McCarthy, Gabbiadini
Goals: Romeu 75
Booked: Long 66
Manager: Mauricio Pellegrino
Referee: P Tierney
- Premier League
- Premier League
- League One
- League Two
- Scottish Premiership
- Scottish Div 1
- Scottish Div 2
- Scottish Div 3
- Ligue 1
- Serie A
- La Liga
But when Pep Guardiola’s team launched their final attack of five minutes of added time, the ball was funnelled patiently and purposefully to Sterling on the edge of the penalty area.
Sterling has been on a run recently, one of those streaks that makes a footballer feel as though he could turn water in to wine if only someone would ask him.
This time, though, the space just seemed too tight and there seemed to be too many bodies between the City forward and the goal for him to repeat recent late winners against Feyenoord and Huddersfield.
Once again, though, he did it. The right foot shot he curled from 18 yards had to be perfect. Southampton’s goalkeeper Fraser Forster is a huge man but this was indeed perfect – inch perfect – grazing the post as it beat the goalkeeper to his left.
As the ball nestled in the net, all hell broke loose at the Etihad Stadium.
Manchester City continued their unbeaten start to the season but left it late to beat Southampton at the Etihad on Wednesday
Nicolas Otamendi celebrates City’s opening goal, which came after Virgil van Dijk deflected home Kevin De Bruyne’s free kick
The Southampton centre back got a crucial touch on De Bruyne’s free kick to put City on course for another league victory
The victorious Manchester City squad pose for a team photo following the dramatic victory over Southampton on Wednesday
Three Southampton players try to dispossess Sergio Aguero during a first period in which City saw lots of the ball
This didn’t feel merely like a late November winner against Southampton, it felt much bigger than that. It felt vital and it felt extraordinary.
So as Sterling raced the length of the field in exultation he was pursued by team-mates and substitutes, even injured ones. Briefly Guardiola joined the melee. Rather like Roberto Mancini after Sergio Aguero’s title winner here in 2012, Guardiola didn’t really know what to do.
Later, after the full-time whistle, the Spaniard argued and jostled with Southampton’s Nathan Redmond as the two men left the field. That, in truth, looked a little ugly and unnecessary and we may not have heard the last of it.
But for now we will concentrate on the sheer glory of the football.
City had not been anywhere near their best once again but in a way that only magnifies the sense of what they ultimately managed to do. It’s one thing celebrating the big victories, the ones that are inevitable almost as soon as the game kicks off, quite another to celebrate those that are clutched from the jaws of disappointment.
Sterling, who also scored the winner for City at Huddersfield last time out, fires a right-footed shot at goal early on
Gabriel Jesus, who started alongside Aguero and Sterling on Wednesday, battles for possession with Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg
City boss Guardiola dishes out instructions to his players during a goalless first half against Southampton at the Etihad
Centre back Otamendi cannot hide his disappointment as a chance goes begging for the Premier League leaders
Victories like this only add to the sense of confidence and invincibility that builds when a team is on a run like City’s. If you can win even when you are ordinary then what is there to fear?
Equally, nights like this can sap the belief from your opponents in the bigger picture. We have United to thank for giving us a title race at all. Without Jose Mourinho’s team this one would be over already.
But what will United make of this? Twice in four days, City looked set to slip up. Twice they have slammed the door in the face of United’s optimism and passages of games like this form part of the psychological narrative of a long season.
So at the end of it all, we are as we were. One day this will just look like another late goal by a very good team. In reality it was the conclusion of a game that seemed to have slipped from City’s grasp largely on the back of their own carelessness.
England star Fabian Delph was again deployed at left back by Guardiola in the continued absence of Benjamin Mendy
Jesus and Aguero both started for the home side on Wednesday but Guardiola’s side endured a frustrating first half hour
Ilkay Gundogan puts his head in his hands after another chance goes begging for the home side on Wednesday evening
De Bruyne tries to dig out a cross into the box as City looked to turn their early possession into a goal at the Etihad
City had dominated the first half but Southampton missed two great chances. Wesley Hoedt headed against the bar and Maya Yoshida volleyed over, both from six yards.
Guardiola’s team also had opportunities and when Southampton defender Virgil van Dijk put through his own goal early in the second half it looked as though they would ease away. But Forster saved well from Gabriel Jesus and from Kevin de Bruyne while Aguero headed over. Another goal then and we would have been spared all the drama.
But City’s wastefulness allowed Southampton substitute Sofiane Boufal to embarrass Fabian Delph at the byline to set up Oriol Romeu beautifully and he equalises from 15 yards with quarter of an hour left.
A draw would not exactly have been a disaster for City but at United they would have smelled opportunity. Now that stench will only be one of inevitably. City have rolled on, somehow.
Southampton centre midfielder Mario Lemina tries to chase down Sterling as the England international dribbles with the ball
City defender Eliaquim Mangala wraps up warm against the November cold while sitting on the bench on Wednesday night
Manchester City and England defender Kyle Walker spits out water during the first half of their clash with Southampton
Aguero looks at Lemina after he is dispossessed early in the second half. It took only two minutes for City to find an opener
Southampton keeper Fraser Forster makes the first of an excellent double save to deny Jesus and De Bruyne on Wednesday
Yoshida attempts to drive away from De Bruyne during the second half as Southampton sought a way back into the game
Guardiola appeared to have a verbal confrontation with Southampton forward Nathan Redmond after the final whistle