Boro stun City with last-gasp equaliser
City's failure to convert chances results in Boro sucker punch
MAN CITY 1
(Sergio Aguero 43)
(Marten de Roon 90+1)
It was always going to be a tall order to match the quality of their majestic European performance just five days ago.
But that wasn't a requirement.
Against Middlesbrough yesterday, it was a test of Manchester City's concentration.
The glamorous Champions League win over mighty Barcelona elevated the Citizens to the clouds, and it was time to show that they could also grind it out in a bread-and-butter Premier League clash.
But they crashed down to earth at the Etihad Stadium yesterday, sharing the spoils in a 1-1 draw with lowly Middlesbrough that no one saw coming.
It wasn't so much a case of complacency.
It was their failure to put the game beyond the visitors who were outrun and outclassed in the first half.
City had enough chances to bury the match by half-time.
They could have been up by a couple of goals before Sergio Aguero put them ahead just before the break.
The Argentinian should have had a hat-trick before disaster struck in injury-time, when Marten de Roon stole in at the far post to head in the equaliser and send the small pocket of away fans into dreamland.
This was exactly the nightmare manager Pep Guardiola was trying to avoid.
Kevin de Bruyne, prior to the match, had fired an ominous warning.
He rightly pointed out that their five-star European show against the Catalan giants would count for nothing if they couldn't take down Middlesbrough to keep up their domestic title charge.
This was the perfect chance to build on the impressive 4-1 win over West Brom the last time out.
Judging from the first-half display, nobody would have predicted the shock result at the end.
The hosts seized the initiative right from the start.
Middlesbrough defended deep, with former City striker Alvaro Negredo isolated on his own up front as the focal point of their counter-attacking game.
City initially struggled to carve out clear goal-scoring chances, but the opportunities began to come in droves after the halfway mark of the first period.
De Bruyne's attempt in the 24th minute to find the bottom right-corner of goal went narrowly wide.
Moments later, Aguero suddenly found himself with time and space at the edge of the penalty box, but could only send a tame effort straight at Middlesbrough goalkeeper Victor Valdes.
The Argentinian then missed another great opportunity when he failed to match the brilliance of a lovely build-up, failing to beat Valdes from inside the box.
The best chance of the half fell to David Silva just outside the six-yard box in the 35th minute, but Valdes, in inspired form, saved superbly to keep his goal intact.
It seemed like Valdes and Middlesbrough were merely postponing the inevitable though.
Such was City's dominance.
When Aguero netted his ninth goal in 11 Premier League games by escaping two markers to stab the ball in from close range in the 43rd minute, it looked like the floodgates would open.
Middlesbrough, missing the in-form Gaston Ramirez through suspension, could count themselves lucky to be only a goal down at half-time.
The visitors failed to muster a single shot, let alone trouble Claudio Bravo, and had only 22 per cent of the ball in the first 45 minutes.
City slowed down their frantic attacking pace in the second period, although they still continued to enjoy chances in front of Middlesbrough's goal.
The visitors fired an early warning though, when out of the blue, Adam Forshaw found himself with only Bravo to beat, but the custodian pulled off an excellent save.
Halfway through the second half, Ilkay Guendogan, scorer of two goals against Barcelona, saw his volley go narrowly wide after the ball fell kindly to him.
Then Aguero missed another easy chance by heading over.
Four minutes from time, he had yet another opportunity to seal a victory but, despite being in acres of space in the penalty area, sent his effort over the bar.
The stage was set for the classic sucker-punch.
In the dying moments, George Friend curled in a peach of a cross from the left flank to the far post, where de Roon delivered a stunning header past Bravo.
The match statistics magnified City's profligacy. They had peppered 25 shots at their opponents, seven of which were on target.
Middlesbrough mustered just five, with only three on target.
BY THE NUMBERS
150: Sergio Aguero has now scored 150 goals in just 223 appearances in all competitions for Manchester City.