Man City’s dogged win shows clutch mentality while Spurs left to ponder quality gap

LONDON — There were times on Friday night when it looked like Manchester City were determined to extend their run of never scoring at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium but eventually, after 88 minutes and 18 shots, Nathan Aké finally forced one in. As scrappy as it was, it was still worth a place in the FA Cup fifth round and fulfilled Pep Guardiola’s outstanding ambition of finally “scoring a goal against Spurs away.”

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More than that, though, it earned a 1-0 win at a difficult stadium that will have the rest of the Premier League looking on nervously. It was around this time last season when City were beaten here 1-0 and then didn’t lose another game until May on their way to their historic treble.

The worry for title hopefuls such as Liverpool and Arsenal is that this time Guardiola’s side are clicking into gear a couple of weeks early. For all the talk about how fitting it would be for Jurgen Klopp to get a title-winning sendoff, City have shown again that they don’t often lose out in key moments during the campaign. Last time out, it was a 90th-minute winner at Newcastle. This time, it was the 88th-minute winner at Tottenham.

“Football is about scoring and not conceding,” Guardiola said. “The stats were really good today but if you see the stats from the past [matches] we could not score or win and it was similar to today. We are really pleased. Of course, to win at this team away, but also to go through.”

After nearly six games over five years and more than 101 shots combined, maybe it was destined to be a contentious close-range toe poke that would finally break City’s barren run at Tottenham. Aké got it after Guglielmo Vicario flapped at Kevin De Bruyne‘s late corner under pressure from Rúben Dias to trigger pandemonium among the 9,000 visiting fans behind the goal.

Spurs were unfortunate the ball bounced up off Micky van de Ven to sit up for Aké to score from 6 inches while their players were so convinced of a foul on Vicario that they surrounded referee Paul Tierney, but it would have been a soft decision had it been given. To his credit, Ange Postecoglou decided against carrying on the complaints in his postmatch news conference.

“The referee had a look at it and I assume VAR had a good look and didn’t see anything wrong with it,” he said. “The decision was made and we have to accept it.”

It certainly wasn’t the most beautiful goal Guardiola’s City have ever scored and perhaps the most impressive aspect of their performance was the way they were able to nullify a team as aggressive as Postecoglou’s Spurs. For the first time under the Australian, they failed to score and over the course of the 90 minutes they managed only one shot, when Stefan Ortega rushed out to smother Brennan Johnson‘s effort in the second half. And for the first time since February 2020, Tottenham didn’t have a single shot in the first half of a home match.

Aké’s winner wasn’t pretty, but it was still deserved.

“We performed incredibly well,” Guardiola said. “Everything [pleased me], from minute one to 95 minutes. We know the reality of how they train every day and how they behave. They [Tottenham] are an exceptional team and we minimised them. We create a lot in every game and have courage with or without the ball so I’m really pleased.”

Postecoglou added: “We fought hard to stay in the game but to be honest that’s all we did was stay in the game. That wasn’t going to be enough tonight.”

While Guardiola used his postmatch news conference to hint about the things City hope to win this season, Postecoglou felt the need to put his first season at Spurs in perspective. He has been brought in to help the club end a trophy drought that stretches back to 2008 — not easy when Guardiola’s serial winners are one of the teams standing in their way.

“They’re the benchmark and we’re not there yet,” Postecoglou said. “They’ve got eight or nine years on us. I hope people have a little bit of perspective about the team we’re trying to be. They’re well down the line and we’re very much in the early stages.”

Postecoglou will hope it’s not too long before he’s able to point to some tangible success while Guardiola appears as determined as ever to cash in on City’s golden era. He has ticked yet another box on his CV by finally getting a goal — and a win — away at Spurs. Ominously for everyone else, City remain on course to add another couple of entries before the season ends.


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