Date: 31st December 2017 at 3:17pm
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Manchester City`s winning streak came to a shuddering halt at Crystal Palace today as the Blues failed to score in the League for the first time since the ignominious 0-0 draw against the Stretfords at the Etihad last season.

And I say shuddering because this was a performance of robustness and guts by Roy Hodgson`s men plus a throwback to the Norman Hunter and Chopper Harris days towards the end when Puncheon took a free shot at Kevin de Bruyne by scything him down while the focus of the referee lay in a different direction. This was the cowardly action of a “finished” non-footballer famous for nothing really. Well, Jason, now you have your fifteen minutes of fame and can no doubt enjoy a telephone conversation with the equally despicable, in my opinion Pugba, who got his New Year wishes early today as both de Bruyne and de Jesus looked to have sustained injuries that will keep them out of matches.

Guardiola fielded an odd-looking eleven which included Gundogan, in the continued absence of David Silva, de Jesus for Aguero and Bernardo Silva for top goalscorer Sterling. With Stones still only considered enough for the bench, Mangala partnered Otamendi to cover for Kompany. Danilo retained his place on the left instead of Delph.

It`s fair to say that Palace took to their task looking for not one, but all three points and with Stretford reject Zaha looking dangerous down one wing and offside Townsend parading against Danilo. Their tactics were a bit basic but were designed to work against a City defence that has hardly faced a successful aerial bombardment this season and every attempt was made to hoof the ball up to Benteke who would hopefully supply the football to either Cabaye or other runners plus the widemen cutting in from the wings.

Added to this was a six-man defence designed to block everything in sight and cover the spaces that City`s creative players so enjoy. And to a greater or lesser extent it worked for them. They forced a shut-out as far as City were concerned and but for a fantastic save at the end when Ederson saved a cheap penalty, City could have been on the wrong end of a defeat, leaving the rest of the pack thinking “Maybe, just maybe” as their commanding lead at the head of the Premier League was shorn to thirteen points. As it happens, the missed penalty shortened City’s lead over Chelsea, with the Stretford now on a downward escalator, to fourteen points.

That said, City did create chances but none of them were clear cut with the exception of one from Sane which brought a good save from Hennessey. De Bruyne never really got set when put through, neither did Aguero. Bernardo and Gundogan tried from outside the box but nothing had enough power to get past a resolute back line and grab the points.

After only eleven minutes de Jesus was in the wars when he was taken out from behind by Dann forcing a kind of leg splitting motion and although he tried to continue it wasn’t long before he headed to the sidelines. Dann left on a stretcher.

This gave Aguero the opportunity to add to his increasing goal tally but he never really got himself open enough to inflict the killer damage he is famous for. The Blues beavered away but found the red and blue wall a fairly sturdy one to overcome.

If Hodgson got one tactic wrong it was pairing Zaha with Kyle Walker who was far to solid and never bought any of the go-to-ground tactics deployed by a player seemingly unable to stay on his feet. Townsend on the other side was pitted against the right-footed Danilo and it wasn`t until late in the game that Hodgson made this change and in so doing, introduced his team`s best chance to creep out of Selhurst Park with the biggest scalp of them all.

Zaha found a gap between Danilo and Sterling the latter of which started a pull-and-push routine well outside the box, got clear and when Sterling applied a good old-fashioned shoulder charge, which is still allowable in Association Football, the proverbial sack of spuds came to town and referee Jon Moss who hitherto had had an excellent game pointed to the spot.

Zaha reacted like he had won the lottery, but an unlikely combination of Milivojevic and Ederson were to ruin his afternoon. The big Palace midfielder no doubt saw Ederson heading towards the corner, hit his shot down the middle, but such is the genius of the Brazilan goalkeeper that not only did he stop it with his feet, but also kept the rebound on the floor and away from goal, so it didn`t sit back up for the penalty-taker.

As City scrambled the ball away to launch a swift counter-attack, Puncheon simply cut de Bruyne down and although he injured himself in the process and also had to be helped off by stretcher, he left City`s star man in a heap.

Despite a free header from Benteke in the last minute of eight added on, both teams had to settle for a point. It was a decent enough result for the Eagles. One they would have been proud of at noon, but not so delighted with by two o`clock, knowing they`d spurned a chance to collect all the goodies.

Maybe it gives the rest of the league hope. Maybe they can dream that City are not as unbeatable as everyone has us believe, but one thing is for sure. Pep will now be plotting their next run of undefeated matches even though within two weeks City have to go Anfield and face the equally free-scoring Liverpool, at a stadium that they don`t generally do well at.

So, City`s lead at the top has been shaved by a point to fourteen. For me that is still quite a spread of matches for the others to catch up on, especially as the Stretfords seem to be drawing closer to the foot of the table, but will no doubt be rejoicing over City`s injury count.

When I saw Lukaku going off injured yesterday my immediate thoughts were that I hope he is ok. When I saw Mo Salah limping out of Liverpool`s 2-1 win against Leicester, I thought the same and same again when Scott Dann who was responsible for de Jesus injury was stretchered away.

The “real reds” from Merseyside worked hard for their victory with Salah once again proving the difference and transforming life Chez Pedmachine from one of grumpiness when the Fox and Hounds scored, to one of incalculable screeching and delight as Sue celebrated the comeback.

But Pugba can go out on TV, condoned by a national broadcaster and tell the nation that he hopes City`s key players sustain injuries. How despicable is that? His own team is essentially rubbish because they play for a manager devoid of tactical nous. I would say on recent showings that none of them would get a place in City`s line-up. Some say there is a case for De Gea, but his footwork is no better than Joe Hart`s. Their young players such as Rashford, Martial and Lingard would all be better footballers if coached by Pep Guardiola. From what I`ve seen in recent weeks at Sold Trafford, I don`t think a lot of coaching takes place there these days and the more I see of Maureen, the more I see him heading one-way down Sir Matt Busby Way around mid-May.

There was a great justice in United`s match yesterday when the greedy Pug got himself on the end of a goalbound shot that would have secured the Stretfords three points to “make sure”. Gleefully he was in an offside position and a goal that would have been was transformed into one that never was. Continue to live your life in the tabloids, Pug, because judging by the comments of some United fans on Twitter, you are not living it on the field.

Watford are up next and we could see a much-changed starting eleven, especially with the injuries and upcoming matches. It is time for Bernardo and Gundogan to fully step up to the plate and reward their excellent brand of football with goals. There won`t be much rest for Aguero in the next few weeks and I think that City will delve deep into the transfer window to secure the services of Sanchez, plus a left back, if one can be located with a centre-half. Otamendi has been exceptional this season, playing with a totally new confidence, and although Inigo Martinez is constantly mentioned, I`m not sure if I would prefer a Premier League “savvy” exponent to assist City through the latter stages of the season.

As I said, we go again at the Etihad against Watford, after our travels up and down the country and let`s hope there is no joy for Harry the Hornet.

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