Manchester City secured a much-needed win to keep their Premier League title challenge alive as Raheem Sterling’s goal earned a hard-fought 1-0 victory at fourth-placed Southampton on Saturday.
City slipped to 11 points behind leaders Liverpool prior to kick-off, albeit with two games in hand on the champions, and once again had to rely on a solid defensive display to edge up to fifth in the table thanks to a seventh clean sheet in eight games.
Pep Guardiola’s men were again guilty of not being ruthless enough in front of goal with the few chances they did create, but one moment of quality that saw Kevin De Bruyne tee up Sterling separated the sides.
Southampton had lost just once in their previous 10 league games to start the day four points and six places ahead of their illustrious visitors.
But the loss of top scorer Danny Ings on top of the defeat dealt a blow to their quest to qualify for Europe.
In a bright City start, Joao Cancelo forced Alex McCarthy into a flying save and Rodri saw an effort ruled out for offside before the only goal arrived on 16 munites.
Southampton’s daring approach to press high backfired as it afforded City the chance to counter-attack that very few sides offer Guardiola’s men.
Bernardo Silva fed De Bruyne down the right and his inch-perfect cross was swept home by Sterling for his seventh goal of the season.
Southampton, though, reacted well to falling behind as Theo Walcott forced Ederson into his first save of the day.
Jannik Vestergaard’s threat from set-pieces has been a big part in Southampton’s success this season and twice the giant Dane will feel he should have done better as his first weak header was easily claimed by Ederson before his second more powerful attempt flew over the bar.
Ruben Dias’s own goal cost City two unexpected dropped points in a 1-1 draw with West Brom on Tuesday and the Portuguese centre-back narrowly escaped another goal at the wrong end after Che Adams just failed to connect with a dangerous cross from Kyle Walker-Peters.
The home side suffered a major blow just before the break when Ings had to be replaced with a muscle injury.
City soaked up plenty of pressure from the Saints in the second half, but again lacked the killer instinct up front to kill the game off.
Ferran Torres flashed an effort across goal before Silva should have provided the finish Sterling did to another brilliant De Bruyne cross.
De Bruyne was also guilty of not taking a big chance on the counter-attack when he fired too close to McCarthy and the Southampton ‘keeper than made an incredible save high to his right to deny Ilkay Gundogan.
Cheered on by 2,000 fans in one of the few Premier League venues allowed to host supporters, due to stricter coronavirus restrictions in other parts of England, the home side pushed until the end.
But City always looked the more likely to score if there was to be a second goal and Riyad Mahrez left Guardiola with his head in his hands after blazing over a glorious opportunity in stoppage time.