Sergio Aguero struck the vital second-half penalty that maintained Manchester City’s bid to retain their Premier League title in a tense 1-0 win over West Ham at the Etihad Stadium on Wednesday.
City kept pace with leaders Liverpool, thanks to the Argentinian scoring his 25th goal of the season from a 59th-minute spot-kick, won by Bernardo Silva, who was tripped by Felipe Anderson just inside the area.
The goal continued Aguero’s astonishing goal-scoring run, particularly at his Etihad home ground, where he has now scored 30 goals in his last 24 league starts – every one of them ending in a City victory.
Bernardo had been on the field for less than a minute and, until Pep Guardiola reshaped his team early in the second half, it appeared the City manager’s worst fears about the impact of losing inspirational midfielder Fernandinho to injury during the weekend League Cup final win over Chelsea, might be confirmed.
But City, who before kickoff paraded the League Cup trophy, certainly began the game like winners, and could have had four goals in the opening five minutes.
Inside 60 seconds, Aguero set up Kevin de Bruyne, whose 20-yard shot flew just wide of the post.
And David Silva’s teasing chipped cross soon played in Riyad Mahrez, who hurried his shot over on the volley from six yards.
Great play between Aguero and De Bruyne sent Mahrez away.
The Algerian crossed for David Silva, who struck the post with a skilful back-heeled flick, and De Bruyne then volleyed over from 12 yards after Aguero’s pass was deflected into his path.
It was an electrifying start from a City side that had scored two or more goals in 15 consecutive home league games, a run dating back to a goalless draw with Huddersfield last May.
But, as the scoreline and news of Liverpool goals in an eventual 5-0 win over Watford began to filter through from Anfield, they struggled to break down a West Ham side led by City’s former title-winning manager Manuel Pellegrini.
Aguero received a defence-breaking pass from David Silva, and saw a shot charged down by Angelo Ogbonna, leading to appeals that the ball had struck his hand.
But club-record signing Mahrez, up against West Ham debutant Ben Johnson down City’s right, was having a particularly frustrating evening, straying offside too often for manager Guardiola’s liking.
Mahrez also wasted possession, and curled a promising chance straight at Hammers goalkeeper Lukasz Fabianski.
Manuel Lanzini, brought on by Pellegrini at the break, had only been on the field five minutes when he received Michail Antonio’s pass, turned his man in the area and flicked the ball to the far post, where Andy Carroll stretched for a shot, which Ederson saved superbly.
Una muy importante victoria con un gran esfuerzo de todo el equipo y todo el apoyo de nuestra gente//Significant victory today, great team effort all around, with a lot of support from our people. C'mon, City! 🤟🏽💪🏽 pic.twitter.com/rJYXT3W2yQ— Sergio Kun Aguero (@aguerosergiokun) February 27, 2019
The scare certainly focused Guardiola’s attention, with the City manager almost immediately hauling off Mahrez and replacing him with England striker Raheem Sterling.
But it was Guardiola’s next decision, bringing on Bernardo three minutes later, that proved pivotal, with the Portuguese winger instantly winning the penalty that handed his side the lead.
Sterling almost made it 2-0 only to be denied by Fabianski’s fine diving stop, with David Silva’s follow-up attempt cleared off the line by Ryan Fredericks.
Moments later, Sterling’s terrific drive was punched clear by the visiting keeper.