Newcastle United 1, Manchester City 1: Pellegrini adopts brave face despite City opening Champions League door to rivals

 
Ross McLean
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Newcastle United v Manchester City - Premier League
Aguero failed to conjure a City winner despite earlier netting his 100th Premier League strike (Source: Getty)

Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini brushed off his side’s failure to overcome relegation-haunted Newcastle despite their draw opening the door to rivals Manchester United in the race for a top-four finish.

The Magpies recovered their poise following a contentious opener from City’s prolific marksman Sergio Aguero -- his 100th Premier League goal -- to earn a hard-fought point courtesy of Vurnon Anita’s leveller.

A draw moved third-placed City a point ahead of Arsenal in fourth and five clear of United, who host Crystal Palace tonight, although both have a game in hand. Newcastle remain 19th but edged a point closer to Sunderland, who have played a game fewer, and Norwich, who are currently above the drop zone.

“I am happy because we started winning the game but after that we didn’t have the control and we didn’t play very well,” said Pellegrini. “We had some options in the second half to score the second goal but it was not a good game.

“It was a difficult game and I didn’t see the team [which beat Chelsea 3-0] with energy from Saturday, but we play after three days at the end of the season and it is not easy for the team to recover.”

Newcastle have now picked up four points from their last two matches following a seven-game winless streak, and former Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez insists his players are starting to showcase a change in mindset under his stewardship.

“The team was working hard but now they have more belief,” said Benitez. “With the fans behind them, the players will give everything and will fight until the end. Today was an example of that.”

City arrived at St James’ Park unbeaten in their last 18 league matches against Newcastle and duly opened the scoring on 14 minutes when an offside Aguero powered a header beyond goalkeeper Karl Darlow from Aleksandar Kolarov’s free-kick.

Newcastle winger Moussa Sissoko latched onto a misplaced Kolarov pass and breezed past returning skipper Vincent Kompany shortly before the half hour mark, only for his weak finish to be smothered comfortably by City stopper Joe Hart.

But moments later the Magpies were level. Sissoko switched the ball out to the right flank to midfielder-cum-defender Anita, who cut inside Kolarov and curled a low, skiddy effort past Hart.

In a second half devoid of too many clear-cut chances, Darlow thwarted City winger Jesus Navas and then Kevin de Bruyne, while at the other end a sprawling Hart, on his 29th birthday, repelled substitute Georginio Wijnaldum late on.