Dublin – Joe Hart has insisted heads will not drop in the Manchester City dressing room despite another setback in their attempt to retain the Premier League title.
The champions drew 2-2 with Liverpool at the Etihad Stadium on Sunday, their second draw in the space of five days. That meant another two points dropped and they now trail rivals Manchester United by nine at the top of the table, four more than a week ago.
City's manager, Roberto Mancini, was quick to insist the title race was not over and Hart maintained that the players would remain confident. The England goalkeeper said: “We have got to be. There is no point turning up otherwise. We have got to win every game and look not to drop any points. It is a good challenge for us.
“We will always be in it, but unfortunately it's a big gap, getting too big for our liking. You have to move forward, and that means we have to beat Southampton next week. We are nine points behind with 13 games to go, so we need the win.”
City claimed a point from a pulsating match against Liverpool when Sergio Aguero rounded Jose Reina and chipped home from an outrageous angle 12 minutes from time.
Hart said: “It was a tough game. I thought Liverpool played really well. I imagine they'll argue we were lucky to get a result in the end. That's a shame but you have got to move forward. It is not the result we wanted but I think a draw is a fair result.”
Despite the setbacks, City's recent form remains relatively good. After losing at Sunderland on Boxing Day, they won six matches in succession in all competitions before being held to a goalless draw at Queen's Park Rangers last Tuesday. City's defence – currently missing their injured captain, Vincent Kompany – had also gone 584 minutes without conceding when Liverpool's Daniel Sturridge struck against his former club.
Hart added: “We need to do what we have done in the last seven games, when we won six and drew one. Of course, we have now drawn again, and that is enough of the draws. We need to start winning.”
One bonus for City from the weekend was that Ivory Coast were beaten in the quarter-finals of the African Cup of Nations by Nigeria.
Midfielder Yaya Touré and his brother Kolo could now be available for the Saturday evening trip to Southampton. Mancini said: “I am sorry for Yaya and Kolo but I hope they come back very angry and they can play well for us.”
BIGGEST BLOWN LEADS IN THE PREMIER LEAGUE
13 pts – 26 December 1997: Manchester United were 13 points ahead of Arsenal, though Arsène Wenger's side had a game in hand, but the Gunners clawed them back to win the title by a point.
12 pts – 20 January 1996: Newcastle United under Kevin Keegan looked on course for a first league title in nearly 70 years, but Manchester United had other ideas and ended up on top by four points.
8 pts – 8 April 2012: Defeat at Arsenal left Manchester City way behind United with six games to go but Roberto Mancini's side won them all to claim the title on goal difference.
5 pts – 3 March 2003: United were five points behind Arsenal with nine games to go but the Gunners crumbled, dropping 12 points to hand Sir Alex Ferguson's side the title by five points. – The Independent