Gabriel Jesus rescues a point for City at Middlesbrough
Pep Guardiola’s team held at the Riverside as Boro denied priceless win in relegation battle
Manchester City’s Gabriel Jesus scores a late equaliser. Photograph: Reuters
Middlesbrough 2 Manchester City 2
Gabriel Jesus saved Pep Guardiola from severe embarrassment on Teesside, the young Brazilian’s late header earning Manchester City a scarcely deserved point as Middlesbrough finally remembered how to score goals.
It left Guardiola’s side clinging onto fourth place, a point in front of Manchester United and Steve Agnew’s Boro agonising about what might have been. Although mathematically still in with a chance of salvation, realistically, they are all but doomed to relegation, with this mini-revival proving horribly tantalising.
The cruelty was only exacerbated by the highly contentious nature of City’s first equaliser, a Sergio Agüero penalty.
The visitors have only won one League game on Teesside since 1977 but such historical portents seemed irrelevant when, with 45 seconds on the clock, Jesus very nearly scored from close range, the fit-again creator just failing to get a sufficiently strong toehold on a ball sent whizzing across the box by Agüero.
Little did anyone know that would represent the visitors’ most menacing first-half moment.
Agnew is very much a Guardiola disciple and enthuses that he has “admired him and his passing philosophy for years” but such fandom was temporarily parked as Boro’s manager urged his side forward at every opportunity.
One home counter-attack resulted in Alvaro Negredo slicing the fallout from a Fabio cross across goal. It seemed the ball required only the slightest of touches to be diverted beyond Willy Caballero but no one was in quite the right place at quite the right time.
If that could be an epitaph for Boro’s season Agnew’s players were in no mood to surrender. Closing City down industriously, concentrating assiduously and winning their fair share of tackles, Boro were doing sufficiently well to ensure Guardiola had more than the capriciously swirling Teesside wind to worry about.
Persistent gusts left the tail of City manager’s long, black designer-cut raincoat flapping almost as frantically as his arms. With the visitors yet to test Brad Guzan, he had genuine reason for anxiety.
A re-calibrated City emerged for the second period re-configured with a back four and Kevin de Bruyne re-located to the left.
It proved justified when Alvaro Negredo gave Boro a 38th-minute lead against his former club. George Friend’s interception proved the catalyst for a quick break which concluded with Stewart Downing cutting back, Friend dummying smartly and Negredo, who seemed to slip as he shaped to shoot, directing a slightly scuffed left foot shot in off a post.
The time had come for Guardiola to press a few tactical buttons and, sure enough, a re-calibrated City emerged for the second period re-configured with a back four and Kevin de Bruyne re-located to the left.
With his side continuing to malfunction and Negredo’s goal still the game’s solitary shot on target, the visiting manager gave them only four minutes of the new half before hauling Aleix Garcia and Gael Clichy off and replacing them with Leroy Sane and Raheem Sterling.
The idea was presumably to leave travelling fans bewitched and Boro bewildered by an infusion of pace and width, but, despite City monopolising possession and increasingly penning them back in their own half, Boro held firm and the crowd roared their approval.
Or at least they did until Kevin Friend awarded a controversial penalty. Bursting into the box at speed, Sane accidentally on purpose accelerated into Marten de Roon who looked to be merely standing his ground before collapsing dramatically.
There was clearly slight contact, exaggerated by the winger conveniently leaving a leg trailing behind him as he fell, but it was hard to see what the midfielder could have done to avoid it.
Boro were furious and it took time for the animated exchanges with the referee to subside. Once the dust settled Guzan hoped to issue a reminder that he specialises in saving penalties but Agüero sent him the wrong way courtesy of an accomplished right footed shot lifted into the top corner.
Undeterred, Boro once again took the lead, exposing City’s defensive vulnerabilities in the process. When substitute Adama Traore’s pace won a free kick and Caballero could only parry Downing’s subtly curved free delivery, his defenders, and Vincent Kompany in particular, failed to cope with the fallout.
It meant Negredo was able to propel the ball across the box for Calum Chambers to extend a boot and squeeze home.
With the decibel level hitting new heights The Riverside was rocking, only for the new-found sense of Teesside optimism to be cruelly punctured by a swiftly taken City free kick, a chipped Agüero cross and Jesus’s scoring header.