Phil Foden’s first-half strike enough as Man City edge past dogged Brighton

Manchester City 1-0 Brighton: Raheem Sterling missed a late penalty but it made no difference as City continued their strong form

Mark Critchley
Etihad Stadium
Wednesday 13 January 2021 20:11 GMT
Phil Foden was in scintillating form
Phil Foden was in scintillating form (Getty Images)

Let title talk commence on both sides of Manchester. United may have climbed to the top of the Premier League table but City are closing the gap.

A hard-fought 1-0 win over Brighton and Hove Albion, courtesy of a sublime first-half goal from the right foot of Phil Foden, saw Pep Guardiola’s side move within four points of their old rivals with a game in hand.

That was despite Raheem Sterling’s late penalty miss and if they are to mount a challenge though, Guardiola knows they will have to play better than this.

City were dominant in the first half but allowed Brighton to wrestle control and Graham Potter’s side may travel back down south feeling aggrieved that all their late pressure did not translate into at least a point.

Brighton are now suffering the longest winless streak in the top flight after Sheffield United claimed their first three points of the season. City, meanwhile, are only looking upwards.

If you had said at the start of the season that City would only move into the top four for the first time in mid-January, you would assume that a challenge was unlikely.

Instead, this most congested of seasons has produced a most congested league table and they are most certainly back in the hunt.

They had to be patient. Brighton defended well and even threatened in glimpses on the counter-attack, but a sense of dread gradually built around their goal during the first half as De Bruyne grew more and more influential.

Visiting goalkeeper Robert Sanchez made what could have been a costly error on the half hour mark, picking up Adam Webster’s back pass to concede an indirect free-kick inside his own penalty area.

But with a mass of Brighton bodies only a few yards in front of him, De Bruyne attempted to find the top corner and only hit Alex MacAllister’s back. It was a let-off.

De Bruyne was beginning to bend Brighton to his will. When Ederson confidently claimed a Brighton corner to launch a rapid City counter-attack, Foden broke away but then dallied and lost control of possession.

Kevin De Bruyne goes close (PA)

De Bruyne immediately pounced on the loose ball, striding away through on goal, only for Sanchez to beat his attempt away once again.

But just as the half seemed set to end goalless, Foden came alive. De Bruyne fed him, playing into his feet on the edge of the box.

An exquisite first touch took him away from Webster and into enough space to roll a finish inside Sanchez’s near post with his wrong foot. The goalkeeper should have had it covered, but let that take nothing away from what was a fine goal.

That goal made Foden City’s top goalscorer in all competitions and, with Gareth Southgate watching from the stands, he had an extra incentive to impress. .

A pair of Maradona turns around Webster and Davy Propper at the start of the second half invited yelps of appreciation from the substitutes’ bench and will certainly have caught the England manager’s attention.

City should have added a second from a flurry of chances shortly after, first when Riyad Mahrez fired well wide after being played through one-on-one. Ilkay Gundogan forced Sanchez to parry a low shot a minute later, while Bernardo Silva struck the junction of crossbar and post on the rebound.

Joao Cancelo and De Bruyne - again - were then denied by Sanchez, who was keeping his team-mates in the contest. They responded by having a long spell of dominance, pinning City in their own half and recovering every failed clearance. But as has so often been the case this season, Brighton lacked that final pass or clinical finish.

Neal Maupay was briefly played through on goal by Leandro Trossard but could not pull the trigger before John Stones’ intervention. Further late Brighton pressure spread a certain tension among City’s players, which was only eased when Sanchez brought De Bruyne down inside the box to concede a late spot-kick.

De Bruyne, surprisingly, did not take it himself and instead deferred to Sterling. The Belgian will surely find himself back on duty next time as his team-mate blazed the ball high and over the crossbar.

The miss allowed Brighton one last attack but that was not enough to find an equaliser and prevent City from claiming an important three points.

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