MANCHESTER: Marten De Roon’s dramatic stoppage-time header cancelled out Sergio Aguero’s first-half goal and earned Middlesbrough a point with a 1-1 draw at Manchester City on Saturday.
Aguero touched in his 150th City goal from Kevin De Bruyne’s low cross to cap a dominant first-half performance from Pep Guardiola’s side.
But they could not match it in the second, despite creating several good chances, and were caught late on as Dutch midfielder De Roon powered in George Friend’s cross for his first goal since joining Boro from Atalanta for £12m (14m euros, $15.5m) in the summer.
The point was enough for City to go a point clear of Arsenal and Liverpool, who both play on Sunday, whilst Chelsea could go top late Saturday if they beat Everton.
It secured a terrific result for Aitor Karanka’s side, but was desperately disappointing for Guardiola, four days after his side had produced an outstanding performance to defeat Barcelona in the Champions League.
Guardiola decided to give centre-back Nicolas Otamendi and winger Raheem Sterling a rest after a hectic recent schedule, while Claudio Bravo returned in goal, having been suspended for the midweek win over Barcelona.
There was no place in the squad, though, for Yaya Toure, despite his apology for criticism aimed at the manager by his agent Dimitri Seluk.
City dominated the opening half, but had to be patient in the face of some resolute defending and inspired goalkeeping by Victor Valdes.
The former Manchester United keeper, returning to the city for the first time since leaving Old Trafford, made a series of excellent stops.
Having held a fierce rising 20-yard effort from Aleksandar Kolarov, he then dived to his right to beat the ball away moments later as Aguero danced through the visitors’ defence.
Valdes reacted brilliantly after that when David Silva turned Jesus Navas’ low deflected cross towards goal at the near post, and was off his line bravely to smother – taking a bang to the thigh in the process – as the former Sevilla winger tried to connect with Fernandinho’s diagonal through ball.
Amid those saves, Valdes saw De Bruyne roll a shot just beyond his far post, and Aguero narrowly fail to connect with a John Stones flick from a Silva corner.
But he could do nothing two minutes before half-time as Aguero nipped in between two defenders for the opening goal. Navas nearly added a second with the last kick of the half, as his rising drive hit the outside of the near post.
Middlesbrough, who lacked any kind of attacking intent in the first half, began the second more positively.
Their former City striker Alvaro Negredo almost equalised with an outrageous lob from the halfway line, but the ball was tipped over by a backpedalling Bravo, who then dashed from his line moments later to block at the feet of Adam Forshaw.
Guardiola’s team battled to reassert themselves, without regaining their first-half levels of superiority.
The impressive Ilkay Gundogan bounced a shot wide from the edge of the penalty area after a De Bruyne ball from the left had bobbled into his path, while Aguero headed over from the Belgian’s cross.
There were still nervous moments for Guardiola, as Stewart Downing drove a shot wide from out on the left after Fernandinho had lost the ball in midfield to allow a Middlesbrough break.
City could have made sure of victory, with Aguero missing a good chance to make certain of victory has he floated a shot wide from a Navas pull-back, and De Bruyne blazing over after Valdes had failed to gather a long cross on the edge of his penalty area.