Belfast Telegraph

Manchester City's title hopes all but gone after defeat at Crystal Palace

Crystal Palace 2-1 Manchester City

By Tom Peck

Selhurst Park. The place where vague title aspirations come to die.

Manchester City should have won this match, but that just makes it another thing to add to the list of things they should have won but haven't.

They were dominant. They were irresistible, but in the noise of the South London night, all four stands seeming to pogo up and down on their foundations, they allowed themselves to be burgled.

Jason Puncheon's free-kick just after half-time which clinched it bent round the wall and smirked at Joe Hart's desperate finger tips from close range before rolling low into the net. There are many down here who think that is a scenario that should have been practised on the England training ground before now. Such calls will not be getting any quieter.

Yaya Touré fired in a trademark thunder bolt with 12 minutes to go. Absolutely unstoppable - just like they always are. The party carried on, but where once there had been raw volume, now there was fear.

James McArthur cleared a ball so narrowly over his own bar it frankly should have gone in. Frank Lampard loitered with intent around the penalty spot, while David Silva and Samir Nasri terrorised the flanks. It wasn't enough.

The last time this corner of Croydon went this crazy, Luis Suarez was down on his haunches, crying in the centre circle, hiding his face below his shirt, a 3-0 lead thrown away.

Now it was City's turn. With Chelsea facing the far tougher run in and their players suddenly looking like the strangers to squad rotation they have been all season, a perfect last eight against eight beatable teams might well have done it for City. Surely, not now.

Alan Pardew is a man who once claimed, while manager of West Ham, that to beat an Arsenal team then well on their way to a Champions League final, "some" of his players would have to give "an 8 out of 10 performance."

Self-belief is a potent thing in football, and Pardew has flooded Selhurst Park with it, but too much of the stuff can kill you.

Right from the first whistle, Crystal Palace went at Manchester City as if this was their match to win. Even so, that they went in at half-time 1 - 0 up was close to a football miracle.

It was Glenn Murray who did it. Thirty-four minutes had gone, around 32 and a half of which had been played within 10 yards of Crystal Palace's goal, but when a Palace corner was played back into the City box, Hart could only stop Scott Dann's shot with the inside of his thigh and Murray was on hand to smack the ball into the empty net from less than a yard.

Was it offside? Vincent Kompany certainly thought so and his remonstrations delayed the restart by what felt like several deafening minutes, the Holmesdale Road Stand looking as if it might lift off into the South London sky.

But when Dann hit his shot, Murray was behind him. Debate over.

Before that, to call it one-way traffic would be an understatement.

The best teams are always a blend of rapacious youth and wise old heads. City are not. Is this a squad that, almost without realising, has gone over the hill together?

An FA Cup, and two League titles, both won by less than the skin on the teeth is a poor return on 10 million barrels of oil.

They have waited too long now, for glory. Last night it felt like Godot had finally arrived instead.

Belfast Telegraph


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