Southampton 1-3 Manchester City: David Silva and Sergio Aguero strike

Perhaps the red carpet Southampton have rolled out around their pitch reminded Manchester City of their VIP credentials.

There was an element of swagger back in Pep Guardiola’s team after three defeats in their previous four games and there were long spells of dominance, strewn with familiar quick-fire passing sequences which shredded Saints. 

Chances were freely created and goals were scored by David Silva and Sergio Aguero in the first half, either side of what proved to be a very helpful slice good fortune when James Ward-Prowse unwittingly diverted a cross into his own goal. 

There was the reassuring presence of Fernandinho, back after a fortnight out and patrolling on the toes of the back-four as if never away and relieved to escape injury from a reckless tackle for which Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg, Southampton’s goal scorer, was sent off late in the game.

City are over their midwinter blip and that was the most important factor of day ahead of Thursday’s clash with Liverpool, title rivals hailed by Guardiola as ‘the best in Europe’.

Away fans filed out of St Mary’s and returned north, singing about the pursuit of Jurgen Klopp’s team at the top of the Premier League and how they will fight to the very end to defend the title they won in such style last season.

Victory hoisted the champions above Tottenham and into second and they will close the gap to four points if they can beat the leaders at the Etihad Stadium. 

The chase is on, and yet Liverpool will not quake.

City are not purring as they can. In their prime they would not have lost to Crystal Palace and Leicester – and they would have destroyed Southampton. 

Any anxieties were soothed when they took an early lead through David Silva, who timed his arrival in the penalty box to convert Bernardo Silva’s cross, but they were wasteful in front of goal and play in such high-risk fashion they will always offer chances at the back.

Ralph Hasenhuttl bemoaned the opportunity squandered by Charlie Austin, clean through and betrayed by a poor touch when the game was goalless, and a penalty appeal not given for a foul by Oleksandr Zinchenko on Ward-Prowse when the game was level at 1-1.

But this was overstating the part Saints had to play. Once ahead, City eased into a pleasing rhythm, zipping passes around quickly and testing a defensive unit which included Kayne Ramsay, a teenager signed last year from Chelsea and who was making his debut.

Riyad Mahrez fired wide when team-mates were well-placed having spliced Southampton on the break and Alex McCarthy, who started a fine performance with a splendid save from David Silva, soon produced another to deny Aguero. 

Hassenhutl tweaked at his formation to give 18-year-old Ramsay more protection against Raheem Sterling and City’s determination to over-elaborate in dangerous territory kept their hopes alive.

Ederson, on his toes to beat out a glancing header from Austin, was nearly caught out when he side-stepped Hojbjerg on his goal line. 

Zinchenko was not so fortunate when Hojbjerg read his intentions and stole the ball as he turned, 30 yards from goal, forged forward, shimmied to deceive Vincent Kompany and crashed in the equaliser.

Briefly, City wobbled, offered the home crowd encouragement and survived a loud claims for a penalty when Ward-Prowse tumbled as he accelerated past Zinchenko.

The Southampton midfielder went to ground too easily and referee Paul Tierney waved away the appeals.

The mood inside St Mary’s turned against Tierney when they conceded the second, moments later, via the misfortune of Ward-Prowse who deflected Sterling’s cross into his own goal.

As Saints fans berated the referee, Aguero added the third, a header from Zinchenko’s cross in the third minute of added time at the end of the first half.

It gave City a degree of comfort and supplied salvation for their young Ukrainian full-back who had been caught out for the equaliser. 

Briefly, City wobbled, offered the home crowd encouragement and survived loud claims for a penalty when Ward-Prowse tumbled as he dribbled past Zinchenko.

The Southampton midfielder went to ground far too easily and referee Paul Tierney waved away the appeals.

The mood inside St Mary’s turned fiercely against Tierney when their team conceded the second, moments later, via the misfortune of Ward-Prowse who deflected Sterling’s cross into his own goal.

As Saints fans insulted the referee, Aguero added the third, a header from Zinchenko’s cross in the third minute of time added on at the end of the first half.

It gave City a level of comfort and supplied salvation for their young Ukrainian full-back who had been caught out for the equaliser. 

‘After the mistake, he never hid,’ said Guardiola, impressed. ‘His reaction was outstanding.’ 

More crucially, Southampton’s ambition faded with the two goals in three minutes. When they returned after the interval the focus had moved towards avoid further damage and preserving energy ahead of a trip to Chelsea on Wednesday.

City kept the ball and McCarthy continued to excel, foiling Sterling when a shot struck him on the forehead and bounced to safety.

Aguero rattled the frame of the goal where the bar meets the post. Jack Stephens hurled his body in the path of an effort by Mahrez and Ward-Prowse made a desperate slide to keep out Aguero.

McCarthy saved again from Mahrez, who was played through by Gabriel Jesus. There would be no fourth.

Fernandinho became the targeted for Southampton’s frustrations. First, a late tackle by Austin which drew a yellow card and then from Hojbjerg who was shown a red card.

It is his second dismissal of the season which rules him out of away games at Chelsea, Derby, in the FA Cup, and Leicester and a home game against Everton.

‘Silly tackle when the game is gone,’ fumed Hasenhuttl, who has lost successive home games after two wins in a row and must wonder if the bounce is over.

City, though, are on the mend with Liverpool in their sights.

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