Manchester City’s John Stones (second right) scores a goal against West Ham during their English Premier League match on Saturday. Associated Press
Manchester City’s dominant centre-backs Ruben Dias and John Stones both struck as the Premier League leaders beat West Ham 2-1 on Saturday, while West Brom enlivened the battle to beat the drop with a controversial 1-0 win over Brighton in which the Seagulls missed two penalties.
Pep Guardiola’s men are now 13 points clear thanks to a 20-game winning run in all competitions that has seen them close in on an unprecedented quadruple of trophies.
For the first time in recent weeks, City showed signs of fatigue, though, and needed the centre-back pairing that has been a huge part of their success defensively this season to also make their mark at other end.
“After 10 or 15 minutes today we realised we were not going to paint anything beautiful,” said Guardiola.
“When you play a lot of games - in the league and then the Champions League - this is normal. We were lucky to get all three points,” he added.
Guardiola believes City’s remarkable winning streak this season, amid a pandemic and despite injuries to Sergio Aguero and De Bruyne, is up there with his finest moments.
“It is so difficult. Twenty in this period, in this era, with this situation around the world. To be able to do 20 is maybe one of the greatest achievements we have done together in our careers,” Guardiola said.
“That doesn’t mean we will win titles but we have not had one week’s rest in three months. A game every three days, with the Covid situation, injury situations - to make this winning run shows mental strength.”
Kevin De Bruyne made just his second start since returning from a hamstring injury and the Belgian’s teasing cross was powered by home by Dias for his first City goal since joining from Benfica in September.
City had kept eight clean sheets in their previous 10 league games, but West Ham showed why they are fourth and pushing to edge out the likes of Liverpool, Chelsea, Tottenham and Arsenal to qualify for next season’s Champions League.
Michail Antonio had already threatened an equaliser by hitting the post before he did level by tapping home Jesse Lingard’s mishit shot just before half-time.
Stones was harshly dropped for a 2-0 Champions League win at Borussia Monchengladbach in midweek after revitalising his career this season, and the England defender smashed home Riyad Mahrez’s pass to restore City’s lead on 68 minutes.
West Ham could still have snatched a point deep into stoppage time when Issa Diop headed a glorious chance wide.
“I’m really disappointed we didn’t get a point,” said West Ham boss David Moyes.
“It was a terrific performance. We came here and tried to match a top side - and for long periods we did,” he added.
West Brom kept their hopes of avoiding the drop alive with just a second win in 13 games under Sam Allardyce in a match overshadowed by a surreal moment of refereeing by Lee Mason that cost Brighton an equaliser.
Kyle Bartley’s early header gave West Brom the lead before Pascal Gross hit the bar from the penalty spot for the visitors.
Brighton did have the ball in the end when Lewis Dunk’s quickly taken free-kick, after Mason had whistled for it to be taken, caught Sam Johnstone napping.
Mason initially did not award the goal before reversing his decision. However, after reviewing the incident on VAR, the goal was ruled out as the referee changed his mind for a second time.
“It’s embarrassing, it’s just a horrendous decision,” said Dunk. “I said to the ref ‘can I take it’, he blew his whistle and I took it.
“I don’t think he knew what he was doing.”
In a statement, the Premier League said: “Referee Lee Mason has overturned the goal because the whistle had been blown a second time before the ball had crossed the line.”
Brighton also had themselves to blame as Danny Welbeck hit the post with a second penalty in the second half.
Victory for the Baggies hauls Allardyce’s men to within eight points of safety, while Brighton remain just four points clear of the drop zone in 16th.