Pep Guardiola could breath a sigh of relief after Kyle Walker’s 86th minute goal saw his Manchester City side escape with a 2-1 win over Southampton on a tough afternoon at the Etihad Stadium.
City were made to toil after the Saints snatched a 13th minute lead when Ederson mis-handled Stuart Armstrong’s shot and James Ward-Prowse pounced.
Ralph Hasenhuttl’s side, only eight days removed from their 9-0 humbling at home to Leicester and four days on from a 3-1 Carabao Cup loss here on Tuesday night, defended their unexpected lead superbly for 70 minutes, showing bravery and commitment to deny City clear chances.
Their resistance was finally broken when Sergio Aguero turned in Walker’s low cross in the 70th minute, and City had the three points when Alex McCarthy could not hold Angelino’s cross and Walker slammed the ball home at the far post.
“Football players have pride, they did not want to live again in that position,” Guardiola said of Southampton’s response to last week’s horror show. “It is our job to try and attack them but I knew it in the Carabao Cup.
“Our problem in the last two games is that one team, they suffer, and with their own pride they are not going to accept under any circumstances what happened against Leicester again.
“And after the goal we conceded it is more difficult.”
City had 76 per cent possession and a total of 26 shots at goal, but only four of those were on target, all of them after the break.
Guardiola’s agitation was obvious as he turned into the world’s best paid ball boy for much of the second half, trying to keep the momentum high as City pressed forward, and the Catalan clashed more than once with Southampton’s coaches as he tried to retrieve the ball.
“I think we have seen him be a little bit nicer than today,” Southampton manager Hasenhuttl said of his opposite number. “That was the reason, because he was a little bit nervous because he could lose this game.
“You saw how much he wanted to win this game. He is a fantastic manager, but he could feel they didn’t have any solutions. You can see how much he was celebrating when they scored.”
The Austrian left empty-handed but will be happy with the spirit shown by his side, both in this match and Tuesday’s 3-1 defeat, given the difficulty of the task they faced in the wake of Friday’s loss.
“The squad was unbelievably committed, unbelievable defending, investing so much in defending our net,” Hasenhuttl said.
“It was very difficult today for Manchester City to create chances. They had a lot of possession, which is normal. It was the only way we could play against this opponent. It is a pity we didn’t get more than a few warm words but after last week it was absolutely necessary to show this reaction.
City’s win was all the more important as Premier League leaders Liverpool also came from behind to win, equalising in the 87th minute before Sadio Mane scored in the fourth minute of time added on to beat Aston Villa 2-1.
“We won, (but) Liverpool still won,” Guardiola said. “When they win so many games in the last minute, it is because of special character. The first season we won with 100 points, we won four or five games in the last minute.
“Against Norwich (a 3-2 defeat in September) we had a lot of chances in the second half and could not convert. Today we scored a goal and that was good.”