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Raheem Sterling's 15 point rise cheers Manchester City

 

By Damian Spellman

Match-winner Raheem Sterling hailed an impressive team display after Manchester City strengthened their position at the top of the Premier League with a 1-0 win at Newcastle last night.

Sterling's first-half goal gave Pep Guardiola's men an 18th successive league win and extended their advantage over second-placed Manchester United to 15 points on a night when rivals Liverpool beat City to the £75m signing of Southampton defender Virgil van Dijk.

Sterling said afterwards: "It was a great team performance.

"I thought Newcastle soaked up the pressure really well and counter-attacked a few times. We put pressure on ourselves at times and didn't make it easy. But we dug in and that shows the team spirit, we stayed together and calm and got the win."

City boss Pep Guardiola said: "We deserved to win by far - it's not easy when the opponent doesn't want to play and defend really well, deep, but we created enough chances in the first half and the beginning of the second."

Guardiola added: "I'm happy with a lot of clean sheets. Tonight we have started the second half of the season - 18 games left, we're going to see how many we need to be champions."

On Jacob Murphy's first-half challenge on Ilkay Gundogan which escaped punishment, the Spaniard said: "Everybody is focusing on diving, but the referees have to follow the rules and try to take care of the players so they feel safe."

Asked if he was disappointed no action was taken against the Newcastle player by referee Andre Marriner, Guardiola diplomatically said: "It is what it is. So..."

Sterling's chance was created by Kevin de Bruyne, and the England winger said: "We've got quite a few players who can find a pass... you've just got to make the run and nine out of 10 times they'll find you."

Team-mate Bernardo Silva added: "We knew it would be a tough game. I think we played well in the first half. It's not easy to play against 11 players behind the ball, but I think we handled it and could have had many more goals.

"When you win 18 games in a row you have to expect teams to do whatever they can to try and stop you.

"The last 10 minutes were very tough, keeping the advantage for another three points. We're so happy."

Asked if he thought the title was wrapped up, the Portuguese midfielder added: "We have to keep working the same way since the start of the season and that's what we'll be doing.

"It isn't won. We're still in December. We have to play with the same spirit and hunger to win the games."

Magpies boss Rafael Benitez, whose team have now lost five successive Premier League home games, said: "We knew it was a difficult game and we would have to work really hard to get something. It's a pity we conceded a goal we could have done better with.

"It was a question of staying in the game until the end and I was really pleased with the team in terms of organisation and work rate but disappointed because we could have been better on the ball in the first half.

"I was pleased with our reaction in the second half, and we had a chance with a penalty that was a penalty (involving Dwight Gayle)."

On his likely transfer targets, Benitez added: "I have a lot of confidence in the team.

"I cannot say too much because we are working trying to bring in some players. Mike Ashley is the owner, what I have to do is work with (managing director) Lee Charnley to find the players we need to stay in the Premier League."

TV pundit Gary Neville accused Newcastle of showing "no ambition". The former England and Manchester United defender said on Sky Sports: "There's defending, and there's showing absolutely no ambition whatsoever. If it were a boxing match, the referee would have stopped it. Hopefully it will spark them into life, to give them something to watch."

Former Newcastle goalkeeper Shay Given was also surprised by the approach adopted by his old club.

"I think even the Newcastle fans just wanted to see someone flying into a tackle. Even that gets them off their seats and they didn't see that, especially in the first half," Given said.

Belfast Telegraph

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