• City trailed to an early James Ward-Prowse goal and did not equalise until Sergio Aguero scored with their first shot on target on 70 minutes, with Kyle Walker hitting their late winner.
• Saints came within minutes of leaving Manchester with a remarkable point, just eight days after shipping nine goals at home to Leicester, before Walker’s volley gave the hosts a vital victory.
Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola felt his side’s patience and attacking intensity were key in their win over gutsy Southampton that keeps them six points behind leaders Liverpool.
City trailed to an early James Ward-Prowse goal and did not equalise until Sergio Aguero scored with their first shot on target on 70 minutes, with Kyle Walker hitting their late winner.
“Southampton defended with 11 men in the 18-yard box so there were no spaces to attack,” Guardiola said afterwards. “We just had to be patient, putting in crosses and trying to win the second balls, but at the same time we were constantly attacking and were very aggressive in our actions.
“It was difficult after we conceded but our rhythm was high from the first minute and we had incredibly good momentum in the first half. In the second half we had maybe 30 or 35 minutes where we were so intense in our actions. It was not easy, but that is why we did it and could make the comeback in the end.”
With Liverpool simultaneously staging a similar last-gasp rescue act to overcome Aston Villa, it was a dramatic day at the top of the table that leaves the top two as they were, a week before they meet at Anfield. The overriding emotion on the final whistle at the Etihad Stadium was still relief at City’s triumph, with the focus from the champions on securing three points rather than any potential Liverpool slip-up.
Saints came within minutes of leaving Manchester with a remarkable point, just eight days after shipping nine goals at home to Leicester, before Walker’s volley gave the hosts a vital victory. Southampton had taken an unlikely early lead when Ward-Prowse pounced on an Ederson error and they held out until Aguero hammered home Walker’s cross with 20 minutes to go.
City’s struggle to turn their possession into clear chances was testament to Southampton’s incredible defensive display. The visitors’ resistance was only ended when Angelino’s cross was not cleared and Walker buried the loose ball for his first City goal since January.
Most of Southampton’s players were down on their haunches to show their dejection at the final whistle, as they were at the end of their previous league game -humiliation at the hands of the Foxes.
But this performance from Ralph Hasenhuttl’s side was nothing like their meek surrender at St Mary’s, with Saints putting on an impressive defensive show of determination and organisation that almost brought them some reward. Just as they did in their defeat here in the Carabao Cup four days ago, Saints stayed deep and defended in numbers - but this time they also had a meaningful threat on the break through Nathan Redmond and Danny Ings.
They scored with their first real attack, when Emerson failed to collect Stuart Armstrong’s skidding shot and Ward-Prowse was first to react to the loose ball.
From then on it was a defensive masterclass, with Saints staying narrow and packing their penalty area, sending City wide to deliver countless crosses - Aguero’s equaliser came from their 46th delivery in open play. It was only City’s relentless pressure that wore them down, but it was exactly the kind of performance Hasenhuttl had asked for in the past few days.
Walker’s winner sent City boss Pep Guardiola jumping for joy, after he had spent most of the second half dashing up and down his touchline to quickly retrieve Southampton’s clearances from the crowd, and urge his side forward.
Despite dominating possession, City found it difficult to create chances for most of the game - and not just because of the commitment of Southampton’s players and their willingness to throw themselves into the path of every shot or cross from the home side.
When City did manage to clear a shot at goal, they were wasteful — with John Stones heading over from Ilkay Gundogan cross in the first half and Aguero doing the same from a Bernardo Silva ball soon after the break.
By then, Gabriel Jesus had joined him in the City attack, but the Brazilian’s arrival initially did not make much difference in what had become a frustrating afternoon for the home side. But on a day where Southampton’s players had shown their character and resolve in defence, City did the same in front of goal to finally force their way through.
Liverpool’s eventual win over Villa means City will have to wait at least another week to close the gap at the top, but this was still a vital victory for Guardiola’s side, no matter how they got it.