Raheem Sterling joins Premier League’s 100 club as Man City beat 10-man Wolves

Man City 1-0 Wolves: Jimenez sent off for two bookings in a minute before Sterling’s penalty seals the points

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It was the type of game against mid-table opposition at the Etihad that Manchester City typically make light work of and this victory, earned by the 100th Premier League goal of Raheem Sterling’s career, will keep the defending champions at the top of the table this weekend, no matter what happens elsewhere. City were good value for their win, too, improving considerably in the second half.

Yet that improvement and the three points only came once Wolverhampton Wanderers had been reduced to 10 men by one of the most ridiculous, self-inflicted sendings-off you are likely to see this season, while the winning goal only came from a debatable penalty that summed up an inconsistent, at times unauthoritative display by referee Jonathan Moss.

Overall, this was a forgettable affair, and only Raul Jimenez’s bizarre red card warrants committing to memory. At the end of the first half, after already being cautioned for a questionable foul on Rodri, Jimenez refused to move out of the way for the subsequent free-kick then immediately intercepted it, inviting Moss to show him a second yellow and a red.

Wolves’ game plan up to that point had produced a dour, lifeless first half that was nevertheless frustrating City’s attempts to break them down and ultimately working in their favour. Jimenez’s sending off ripped that blueprint up and City proceeded to rip Wolves apart, eventually taking the lead through Sterling and dominating against 10-man opponents in a manner not reflected by the 1-0 scoreline.

Guardiola made two changes from the commanding win away to Watford last weekend, with Phil Foden’s persistent injury niggles confining him to sitting alongside Kevin De Bruyne on the substitutes’ bench, while Kyle Walker was punished for his needless sending off away to RB Leipzig on Tuesday, with Oleksandr ZInchenko his replacement.

There was experimentation in the forward line to begin with, where City often attacked with two pairs of wingers rather than their usual false nine. Gabriel Jesus and Jack Grealish worked in tandem on the left-hand side, Raheem Sterling and Bernardo Silva on the other, and that, in all honesty, was about as intriguing as a dour first half got in terms of the actual football.

City predictably dominated possession, yet they struggled to find in-roads other than through Joao Cancelo’s chipped balls into one corner of the penalty area, which Wolves became more alive and alert to each time they failed to come off. This game only really came to life in the seven minutes of added time that preceded the half-time interval, and even then, in farcical circumstances.

A clash of heads between team-mates Ruben Neves and Max Kilman had led to that lengthy delay, but it was following a flashpoint between Romain Saiss and Raheem Sterling that referee Jonathan Moss gradually began to lose control of proceedings. First, there were two cautions for City players: one for Ruben Dias that was deserved, one for Rodri that was not. Then, there were two quick yellows for Jimenez.

It was hard to have any sympathy for Jimenez, who should really have known that obstructing the free-kick that followed his foul on Rodri would be a second bookable offence. Yet that foul was soft, certainly not worthy of a yellow card, and his sending off had a lot to do with Moss’s loss of control and the febrile atmosphere that had encouraged, as well as Jimenez’s petulant behaviour.

And at least that petulant behaviour was entertaining. Jimenez took an age to leave the pitch, twice throwing his headband down to the ground to delay his departure. The Etihad urged him, with ironic cheers, to do it a third time but he demurred. It all contributed to the sense this was becoming more of a grudge match than a football match and you momentarily forgot that the football match was still 0-0.

Raul Jimenez, centre, reacts after being sent off

But now depleted, Wolves could not put up the same level of resistance in the second half. City began to find and break into space with much greater ease, seeing an Ilkay Gundogan header cleared off the line by Conor Coady. With wave after wave of attack, clearly a goal was coming, though it would only arrive in a manner in keeping with the questionable standard of refereeing on display.

Bernardo Silva’s cross hit Moutinho’s between his side and armpit. Moss immediately pointed to the spot, even though it was not the clearest handball you will ever see and looked even more debatable on the replay. A lengthy VAR review followed and, from the way Guardiola slapped the side of his own torso, it looked like he expected it to be overturned. Yet it was not, allowing Sterling to convert with expert composure, rolling past goalkeeper Jose Sa despite missing all three of his last spot-kicks at club level.

From there on, City should have been out of sight. Grealish’s inconsistency in front of goal continued, scooping the ball over the crossbar at the far post when only a few yards out and with the whole of the goal to aim at. When he was replaced by De Bruyne shortly after, Guardiola embraced him but his head stayed bowed, as if he knew that was the chance to deflect some of the attention over his current form.

In the end, Grealish’s miss did not matter. It might have, had Kilman’s late header from a Daniel Podence cross not been acrobatically tipped over the bar by Ederson ,but the City goalkeeper would not be denied the 100th clean sheet of his career in Manchester. A century of shut-outs for Ederson, a century of league goals for Sterling, and City are three points closer to the century which could be required to retain their title.

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