MANCHESTER City manager Manuel Pellegrini conceded his team’s hopes of defending their title had suffered a major blow after Crystal Palace all but killed off another Premier League hopeful last night.
Goals from Glenn Murray and Jason Puncheon left City nine points adrift of leaders Chelsea and made the Blues even stronger favourites to lift the trophy for the first time since manager Jose Mourinho’s return in 2013.
City benefited when Palace inflicted a fatal late wound on Liverpool’s charge for the title last season; this time they were the victims as Selhurst Park played graveyard to more silverware ambitions.
A fifth defeat in seven matches could also prove terminal for Pellegrini’s job prospects, though the Chilean attempted to deflect talk of his team’s title bid being doomed.
“We are not talking about the title or Chelsea; we just have to win our games and at the end of the season we will see who has more points,” said Pellegrini, whose team replied through Yaya Toure.
“Every time you drop points it’s a big blow, especially at the end of the season. But we must try to continue playing in the way we did today because normally we would win games.
“We lost because they scored a goal from a clear offside and a beautiful free-kick. We had a lot of chances and were unlucky to not score more goals.”
Palace manager Alan Pardew, whose men have still to play Chelsea, Manchester United and Liverpool in their final seven games, warned they could yet cause further twists near the top of the table.
“We gave a good description of what Palace is tonight,” he said. “We’ve got three games before we play the big boys again and we could still be involved in some defining moments.”
Victory lifted Palace, who were 18th when Pardew took charge in January, to 11th, though a third successive win looked unlikely as City laid siege to Julian Speroni’s goal early on.
Goalkeeper Speroni tipped over David Silva’s shot, watched on helplessly as Sergio Aguero rattled a post and was indebted to Damien Delaney for clearing from the Palace goalmouth before Murray’s opener.
The former Reading striker tapped in from close range against the run of play on 34 minutes, after Joe Ledley flicked on Martin Kelly’s cross and England No1 Joe Hart saved Scott Dann’s shot with his legs.
City fumed at a perceived offside but the visitors’ evening got worse just after half-time when winger Puncheon curled a dipping 25-yard free-kick over the City wall and into the bottom-right corner.
Toure set up a nervous last 10 minutes when he lashed a first-time shot left footed across the box and into the far corner, but the City bombardment, like their title challenge, fizzled out.