Mauricio Pochettino’s team move into second place after 2-1 win at the Etihad Stadium
Yaya Touré will not wish to see a replay of the error that led to the late Christian Eriksen’s strike that sent Tottenham Hotspur home jubilant and which put a further dent in Manchester City’s championship hopes.
The Ivorian ran into traffic and trouble near halfway and from there City unravelled. Erik Lamela had only just come on as a substitute but a cool head allowed the Argentinian to carry the ball forward before passing to Eriksen, whose finish beyond Joe Hart may prove priceless when the title is handed out in May.
City had fought back impressively during a second half in which they appeared the more likely to claim the points, especially after Kelechi Iheanacho’s equaliser.
Yet by the end Nicolás Otamendi had failed to beat Hugo Lloris to a header that might have grabbed the draw, and Tottenham had moved to within two points of the leaders Leicester City.
With only 12 games left Manuel Pellegrini’s side are staring at a second consecutive loss and the same six-point deficit they began the day trailing by, the normally cool-headed manager stopping to argue with the fourth official before walking off.
The start was the opposite of the free-for-all that had been the Arsenal-Leicester game earlier in the day. It featured the kind of cautious exchanges that often occur in a championship race’s defining phase.
City posed the greater threat. David Silva was in chief conductor mode, Raheem Sterling was finding space, and Sergio Agüero was given two chances to open the scoring.
Each of these came from the series of City corners. A Silva-Fernandinho-Silva-Sterling-Silva move along the Spurs right ended in the latter’s shot being deflected out. Silva took the kick from the left but Agüero’s header was looping and weak and simple for Hugo Lloris to collect.
The second followed a corner this time claimed by Sterling, which Silva again swung in from the left, but Agüero’s attempt with his left boot was high.
Pellegrini positioned Touré as the No10 behind Agüero and in flashes the Ivorian posed the visitors problems – either by running with the ball or without it as a late arrival into the area.
The way to do the same to this Pellegrini outfit is to hound and cut off their thinking time. This is how Leicester departed here with a 3-1 win in the previous game but during the first half Spurs failed to do this.
Any questions they asked were more prosaic. At one point Eriksen, the No10 in Pochettino’s 4-2-3-1, drifted across the turf and let fly a 25-yard shot that forced the under-worked Hart to save.
Later, Danny Rose hit a volley with a strike that was on course to trouble Hart, before Pablo Zabaleta’s head intervened.
Vincent Kompany had been confirmed in the City starting XI for the first time since 8 November and given their defensive maladies the hope was he could immediately reach matchday speed.
As the break arrived the home rear-guard had indeed been more composed, though Kompany’s rustiness caused two errors. There was an awry header that conceded possession, and a clearance that allowed Tottenham to rove straight back at City. But like the rest of the opening half this came to nothing.
Only eight minutes of the second half were needed to change this. It came when Mark Clattenburg awarded a penalty after Sterling was judged to have handled Rose’s cross. It was actually more of an elbow, the No7 turning his back but when Harry Kane stepped up he made no mistake, smacking the spot-kick past Hart.
The contest was now split open. The atmosphere had become raucous and City nearly enjoyed an instant response when Touré addressed a 25-yard free-kick after Kevin Wimmer’s foul, for which the central defender was booked. Toure stuttered his run-up and was unlucky to see fine attempt crash back off the bar.
Kane’s goal came on the hour. Five minutes later Pellegrini made his first move, taking off Fernando for Iheanacho. Having to look to a 19-year-old for help to turn this crucial match is illustrative of the injuries that blight a squad whose biggest miss is Kevin De Bruyne, a long-term absentee.
The youngster did not make the best start when a regulation touch was clumsy and the ball ran away for a goal-kick. The next time he was found Iheancho made serious amends. Gaël Clichy fashioned a slick one-two with Silva and when the left-back pinged the ball over the striker hit an instant finish that left Lloris no chance.
City had grabbed the momentum and were flying at Tottenham. Touré galloped forward and aimed a shot a Lloris that warmed the Frenchman’s fingers but at final whistle all the positive energy and feeling was the visitors.