Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola said “you have to win this kind of game” after his side were held to a frustrating draw by struggling West Brom.
Baggies goalkeeper Sam Johnstone made two point-blank stoppage-time saves to deny City victory and leave Guardiola’s side sixth in the Premier League table, five points off the top.
“It will be a long season but if you want to be up there we have to win here and we could not do it,” he said.
“We created chances, we controlled it but you have to win. This game works on results.”
City seemed on course for a customary home win against West Brom when Ilkay Gundogan applied a first-time finish to Raheem Sterling’s cutback after half an hour.
But the midfielder’s first goal in 22 games was cancelled out before half-time when a volley on the turn from Semi Ajayi, which appeared to be going wide, deflected off Ruben Dias and wrong-footed City keeper Ederson.
It was the first goal City had conceded in 608 minutes in all competitions and was followed by a valiant backs-to-the-wall effort from Slaven Bilic’s visitors, who defended heroically.
It seems that the point may still not be enough to keep Bilic in the job, with the 52-year-old’s exit potentially coming as early as Wednesday.
Uncertainty over Bilic’s future has been fuelled by his admission there have been no talks over a new contract, with his current one due to expire in the summer.
Battling Baggies scrap for point
The visitors had lost each of their past nine visits to Etihad Stadium and hopes could not have been especially high on their latest trip, given they had won once all season and that success – at home to bottom club Sheffield United – was the only time they avoided defeat in a run of six matches.
Little wonder Bilic’s future is the topic of major debate – or that the Baggies boss looked edgy as he tried to urge his team on during an opening period that could hardly have been more one-sided.
City enjoyed 77% possession, yet at the start of the half came a golden chance that West Brom should have taken – and at the end of the first period, a scruffy one that they did.
With a restricted budget, Bilic pushed the Baggies board to pay Huddersfield £15m for striker Karlan Grant on deadline day.
A return of one goal from nine games before this one is not good enough – and he will not have many better chances than the one he had after seven minutes – straight in front of goal, 10 yards out, with only Ederson to beat.
Grant’s shot lacked conviction, was not close enough to the corner and allowed the keeper to save.
Ajayi’s deflected equaliser was unexpected, but it gave West Brom something to cling to. In partnership with Dara O’Shea, Ajayi was outstanding in the second half.
Despite offering no threat at the other end, the visitors’ collective effort was far better than anything previously produced in a season where they had conceded 25 goals in their first 12 games, more than any other side.
And Johnstone’s heroics at the end ensured the defenders’ efforts gained a tangible reward.
“We defended brilliantly, it’s a great point but more than that it shows we know what we have to do in every game,” Bilic said.
“We are defending for our lives, ready to die for each other on the pitch and that’s all I can ask.”
Offensive struggles for Guardiola’s City
City still have some truly great players but the losses of midfielder David Silva to Real Sociedad in the close season, and Sergio Aguero to injury for much of the campaign, have robbed them of key attacking threats.
For all their possession, clear chances were at a premium. Benjamin Mendy and Rodri were both off-target with efforts that could be classed as more hopeful than threatening.
Sterling’s inventiveness created Gundogan’s goal as he delayed his cutback just long enough to tee up the Germany midfielder in the perfect spot, but too often City chose the wrong option and ended up running into a red and yellow-shirted wall.
Johnstone denied Sterling after the interval with a smart reaction save but as desperate clearance followed desperate clearance and block followed block, City boss Pep Guardiola became more and more agitated.
At one point he almost resorted to chasing after the ball when it went out of play to try and maintain his side’s attacking momentum, and when fourth official Anthony Taylor was about to signal the minimum amount of additional time to be played, Guardiola amusingly stuck his head over the board, as if to say the number was wrong.
Back on the bench after a bout of gastroenteritis, the introduction of Aguero midway through the second period signalled fresh hope for City. But the Argentine missed his best chance three minutes from time – and former Manchester United keeper Johnstone did the rest.
“You don’t have to be so clever to see the gap between this year and previous years [in our results],” Guardiola said.
“It is not confidence, Sergio Aguero is injured for four months, but we create chances, we are there we just can’t score.”
West Bromwich Albion
Portuguese own goals on the rise – the stats
- This result ended a run of eight Premier League home wins against promoted sides for Manchester City, since a goalless draw against Huddersfield in May 2018.
- West Brom ended a 13-game losing streak against City in the Premier League, picking up their first point against them since a 0-0 draw in December 2011.
- Albion also picked up their first away point against City since August 2005, ending a run of nine straight league defeats at Etihad Stadium.
- City’s haul of 26 shots was the most they have had in a home league game without winning since August 2019 against Spurs (30).
- Rúben Dias’ own goal was the first goal City had conceded in 10 hours and eight minutes in all competitions, since Giovani lo Celso’s strike for Spurs last month.
- Dias is the third different Portuguese player to score a Premier League own goal this season, after Helder Costa and Nélson Semedo. Only three different Portuguese players had scored own goals in the previous 27 seasons in the league combined (José Bosingwa twice, Abel Xavier and Ricardo Rocha).
- Raheem Sterling has been involved in 148 goals in all competitions for Man City under Pep Guardiola (95 goals, 53 assists), more than any other player since the Spaniard joined in 2016.
- Ilkay Gundogan’s opener was his first Premier League goal in 22 games, since netting against Leicester last December.
- 27CanceloBooked at 45mins
- 3Rúben Dias
- 6AkéBooked at 90mins
- 22MendySubstituted forWalkerat 75′minutes
- 17De Bruyne
- 47FodenSubstituted forAgüeroat 76′minutes
- 9Gabriel Jesus
- 20Bernardo Silva
- 3GibbsBooked at 90mins
- 10PhillipsSubstituted forPeltierat 87′minutesBooked at 90mins
- 8LivermoreSubstituted forKrovinovicat 80′minutes
- 18GallagherBooked at 40mins
- 29GrantSubstituted forAustinat 70′minutes
- Peter Bankes
Match ends, Manchester City 1, West Bromwich Albion 1.
Second Half ends, Manchester City 1, West Bromwich Albion 1.
Nathan Aké (Manchester City) is shown the yellow card for a bad foul.
Foul by Nathan Aké (Manchester City).
Filip Krovinovic (West Bromwich Albion) wins a free kick in the attacking half.
Attempt saved. Raheem Sterling (Manchester City) header from very close range is saved in the centre of the goal. Assisted by Kevin De Bruyne with a cross.
Attempt missed. Ilkay Gündogan (Manchester City) right footed shot from outside the box is close, but misses to the right from a direct free kick.
Kieran Gibbs (West Bromwich Albion) is shown the yellow card.
Raheem Sterling (Manchester City) wins a free kick in the attacking half.
Foul by Romaine Sawyers (West Bromwich Albion).
Attempt blocked. Rúben Dias (Manchester City) header from the right side of the six yard box is blocked. Assisted by Rodrigo with a cross.
Attempt saved. Ilkay Gündogan (Manchester City) header from the left side of the six yard box is saved in the centre of the goal. Assisted by Kevin De Bruyne with a cross.
Lee Peltier (West Bromwich Albion) is shown the yellow card.
Attempt missed. Sergio Agüero (Manchester City) right footed shot from the right side of the box is close, but misses to the right. Assisted by Raheem Sterling following a fast break.
Substitution, West Bromwich Albion. Lee Peltier replaces Matt Phillips.
Attempt saved. Kevin De Bruyne (Manchester City) right footed shot from outside the box is saved in the bottom right corner.
Ilkay Gündogan (Manchester City) wins a free kick in the attacking half.
Foul by Romaine Sawyers (West Bromwich Albion).
Foul by Nathan Aké (Manchester City).
Charlie Austin (West Bromwich Albion) wins a free kick in the defensive half.