Manchester City staged a thrilling fightback from two goals down to keep the destiny of the Premier League title in their hands, but Riyad Mahrez’s late penalty miss forced the leaders to settle for a dramatic 2-2 draw at West Ham on Sunday.
Pep Guardiola’s side were in danger of gifting second placed Liverpool a title lifeline after West Ham’s Jarrod Bowen struck twice in the first half.
But City’s stirring recovery showed the character that has already brought them three titles in the last four seasons.
Jack Grealish got one back soon after the interval and Vladimir Coufal’s own goal completed City’s escape act.
It should have been even better for City, but Mahrez’s penalty was saved by Lukasz Fabianski with five minutes left.
While that was a bitter blow to Guardiola, who stood ashen-faced on the touchline, in the circumstances City will be relieved to have moved four points clear of Liverpool with a goal difference seven better than their rivals.
They will retain the title if Jurgen Klopp’s side lose their game in hand at Southampton on Tuesday.
If Liverpool beat Southampton to close the gap to one point, Guardiola’s men can still clinch the trophy with a victory against Aston Villa at the Etihad Stadium on May 22.
A title race for the ages could well go down to the last day of the season, when Liverpool host Wolves, as it did when City pipped the Reds to first place in 2019.
Guardiola said this week he wants players with a “special mentality” as he looks to bolster his squad for next season, personalities who, like him, wake up every day obsessed with winning.
City’s enthralling revival to extend their unbeaten league run to 11 matches showed Guardiola already has plenty of fighters in his squad, although he might not put Mahrez on penalty duties again for a while.
Aymeric Laporte and Fernandinho were passed fit in start in City’s defence after suffering injuries in Wednesday’s win at Wolves.
But City were already without injured defenders Ruben Dias, John Stones and Kyle Walker and they didn’t look comfortable at the back from the opening moments.
– On a knife edge –
Craig Dawson got behind Oleksandr Zinchenko to meet Pablo Fornals’ cross, but with the goal at his mercy, the West Ham defender headed over.
That early threat seemed to fluster City, who controlled possession but found it difficult to create clear chances with West Ham happy to defend deep and strike on the counter.
Just as City looked set to turn the screw, they were hit with a sucker punch in the 24th minute.
Fornals’ opportunistic pass caught Laporte and Zinchenko trying to play offside and Bowen nipped in behind, rounding Ederson before slotting home from a tight angle.
Although West Ham had nothing to play for, they had already beaten Liverpool and Chelsea at home and this was no easy ride for City as David Moyes’ game-plan exposed the flaws in the leaders’ commitment to all-out attack.
City’s soft centre was exposed again on the stroke of half-time.
Fabianski’s long kick was headed on and Michail Antonio clipped his pass beyond Zinchenko, freeing Bowen to sprint clear and shoot low past Ederson.
Desperately needing a quick response after the break, Grealish gave City a lifeline in the 49th minute.
Rodri’s flick reached Grealish and his shot bounced into the ground, going through Dawson’s legs and past the wrong-footed Fabianski.
That was the signal for City to lay seige to the West Ham goal.
Fabianski saved Jesus’s drive with his legs, then kept out Bernardo Silva’s volley.
City’s relentless pressure was rewarded in the 69th minute when Mahrez’s free-kick was headed into his own net by the diving Coufal.
The drama wasn’t over and City were awarded an 85th minute penalty after a VAR review of Dawson’s trip on Jesus.
Mahrez stepped up with a chance to almost seal the title, but Fabianski dived to his left to make a save that kept the title race on a knife edge.