Hart the hero as City run out of energy
Liverpool 1 Manchester C 1:THE QUEST for the Premier League title is as much a trial as an adventure. Even Manchester City, with fathomless means, know there will be days such as this when they are reduced to an almost impoverished condition. Energy reserves among the outfield had been exhausted before the close, but goalkeeper Joe Hart pulled off a superb save from a header by the substitute Andy Carroll in stoppage time.
Roberto Mancini perhaps anticipated there would be alarms of that sort before the lead in the Premier League was restored to five points with a draw that was only his second of the season in the top flight. In normal circumstances, a club in such a position would be overjoyed. After all, Manchester United had used up a home fixture the previous day when they were held by Newcastle United.
City, though, are denied the right to take comfort in such mundane matters. They have brought that on themselves with the sheer scale of their ambitions and the funds that propel them. The side, on this evidence, can still be febrile, perhaps best evidenced when the substitute Mario Balotelli was shown a second yellow card in the 83rd minute after catching the Liverpool centre-half Martin Skrtel with his forearm.
The forward had spent just 19 minutes on the field. Mancini might have thought the punishment severe but the indiscipline should still concern him. Life is crammed with incident for City, whether they like it or not. Their midweek defeat at Napoli in the Champions League was draining for the squad and the assumption they could come to Anfield and lay on a spectacle of sprightly football was unreasonable.
Mancini would have anticipated that energy and keenness would belong mostly to Liverpool. Despite that, it took a particularly silly own goal by Joleon Lescott to put Liverpool on level terms. Even without such idiosyncrasies, City are learning the reaction to them becomes more intense with each step they take towards the title.
Liverpool chose to be conservative for much of the afternoon. With Lucas impressing as he covered in front of the back four, they were intent on showing City there would be no easy route to goal. The nature of the contest made it especially hard for Sergio Aguero to fill the unfamiliar role of lone striker. The goals, both coming before the interval, were not the product of gleaming creativity.
In the 31st minute, City moved in front when Vincent Kompany got away from markers at the near post to meet David Silva’s corner with a header. If that was simply slipshod defending by Liverpool, the lapse by City that followed two minutes later was absurd. A long-range effort by Charlie Adam was miscued and destined to go well wide until Lescott stuck out a leg and diverted it into his own net.
There was luck in that, but this fixture was never liable to put City are ease. If there is any benefit at all to the setback in Napoli, it lies in the toning down of expectations. In the aftermath of that defeat, Mancini jumped at the opportunity to write off the club’s prospects of winning the Champions League this season. Whether he was sincere on that matter, he dare not suggest that the Premier League title must also be reserved for some other team.
Though Kenny Dalglish’s side are unbeaten at Anfield this season, that sequence was made up of four draws and only two wins. The statistics would have been reassuring for City were it not for the craving, among Liverpool fans and players alike, to make this a stressful day for the nouveau riche club.
Nonetheless, City stood firm before the compelling ferocity of Anfield, even if Silva might have found the net towards the close instead of seeing the attempt blocked. It would not have been a deserved win for City. Mancini, his usual composed self following the game, was not taken by surprise in any regard.
It must have been on the tip of his tongue to ask whether a point was not a thoroughly tolerable return on the effort put into the contest. Few thought Manchester United should be downcast when they also recorded a 1-1 result. Apart from that, Mancini would have taken note of the fatigue in his centre-forward, Aguero, among quite a few others.
The true consequences of this match lie elsewhere. Liverpool’s endeavours will have encouraged other challengers.
Dalglish may not anticipate a prize of that sort this season but he has given heart to all the other clubs who face City.