Javier Gracia is clearly frustrated, but doesn’t see the point in going off on one, live on BT Sport. “We play a very good first half. Collectively a very good performance. I think everybody has seen what happened, I never criticise the referees and I’m not going to do it either. There is position and influence, and I think it is clear. I have confidence in all of our players, I know they are able to compete with other teams. Now we have to play eight games more in the league plus a cup quarter final. It is important that they are ready. We did our best.”
Here’s Raheem Sterling, the man of the moment, talking to BT Sport! “The first half was very difficult. it was hard to break them down, they were very compact. We got the luck with the first one, and had a few more chances after that. We knew we only had 45 minutes left, and had to go for it and be more aggressive, and that’s what we did. I don’t know exactly what happened with the first goal, but I was praying and hoping, and we got some slight fortune, and we deserved it. I’m trying not just to score goals, but important goals. We’re taking it a game at a time, we’re strong contenders. Today it was really difficult, and it’ll be a difficult run-in, but now we’re going to focus on the FA Cup.”
City are on some run. That’s 16 wins in their last 18 matches in all competitions! They haven’t even been particularly impressive in their last four games, yet during that period have picked up all nine Premier League points on offer and won the first major trophy of the season! Imagine what they’re going to be like when they rediscover their top form. Dear me. As for Watford, they stay in eighth place in a battle with Wolves for that Best of Rest title.
FULL TIME: Manchester City 3-1 Watford
City move four points clear at the top! Some controversy over the opening goal, but City were fully deserving of victory, despite Watford’s spirited show. Over to Liverpool, who really need three points against Burnley tomorrow lunchtime.
90 min +4: He batters it straight into the wall, and into Kompany, making up for his error. It’s a corner, from which City break upfield in pursuit of a fourth. Foden and Jesus combine in the hope of releasing David Silva, but nothing doing.
90 min +3: Now Kompany clatters into the back of Deeney, 25 yards out, just to the left of the D. Deulofeu fancies this.
90 min +1: The first of four added minutes. Deeney wins a header on the edge of the City box. Kompany flicks Masina’s ankle, but it’s a very light brush. Watford want a penalty but the referee’s not interested.
90 min: City make their last change, withdrawing Mahrez and sending on Foden.
88 min: Sane dribbles down the left and purchases an easy corner off Janmaat. From the corner, Gundogan scores three points in the rugby-union style.
87 min: More end-to-end entertainment. A long hoick towards the City box causes a mild kerfuffle. Watford can’t get a shot away, and suddenly Sane is bowling down the left, with Jesus free on the right. A spectacular diagonal ball nearly finds the striker on the edge of the box, but Foster does very well to stride out and hack clear.
85 min: Gundogan slips Jesus free, into the area down the inside left. Jesus drops a shoulder to move in to the centre, beating Foster. He’s about to slot home with Kabasele slides in to block, a superb last-ditch challenge. The resulting corner is knocked long to Otamendi, who heads lamely wide of the right-hand post when he should have done so much better.
83 min: Foster launches another free kick long. He’s looking for Deeney. Ederson gathers and sends it back upfield towards Jesus, who nearly latches onto it on the edge of the box. But Foster gets back to gather just in time. Now that’s end-to-end football.
80 min: No goal for Aguero today, so that’s good news for Sterling with the Golden Boot in mind. Jesus comes on in his place.
79 min: Cleverley presses towards City’s box. But he loses possession and City break. Bernardo Silva tears upfield, exchanges passes with Mahrez, and nearly dinks over Foster. The keeper parries, the ball breaking to Sane on the left. Sane should probably score, but lashes wildly into the side netting.
78 min: Aguero shoots from a tight angle on the left, having been sent into space by David Silva. Foster swallows at the near post.
77 min: Walker bursts down the right and reaches the byline unchallenged. He whistles a low cross through the six-yard box. Had Sane made the run, he’d have had a simple tap-in. Britos knocks the ball out for a corner, from which very little occurs.
75 min: Deulofeu powers down the right and nearly has the shirt taken off his back by Otamendi. A free kick just to the right of the City box. Watford load the area. Otamendi makes up for the foul by powerfully heading Deulofeu’s set piece away.
73 min: Aguero turns on the jets and dribbles down the inside-right channel, nutmegging Cleverley and then dancing past Masina, into the area. He can’t jink past Britos as well, though. Not quite Maradonaesque, but not far off either.
72 min: It’s raining heavily all of a sudden, mirroring moods in Hertfordshire and Merseyside no doubt. And yes the home fans are singing in it.
70 min: City aren’t exactly rocking after that Watford goal. A lot of possession in the midfield, taking the sting out of the game and ensuring Watford don’t gain any unnecessary momentum.
68 min: Sane blams it straight into Doucoure’s lug. The Watford man is floored, and play is immediately stopped. After some treatment, he’s good to go again.
67 min: City come straight back at Watford, Doucoure bowling David Silva to the ground. A free kick, 25 yards out. Sane fancies it.
GOAL! Manchester City 3-1 Watford (Deulofeu 66)
How about this for an instant impact?! Foster hits a free kick long. Deeney’s first touch is a flick-on header on the edge of the box. Deulofeu’s first touch is to latch onto the knock-down, and slot the ball past Ederson and into the bottom right!
65 min: Success and Femenia are replaced by Deulofeu and Deeney.
64 min: Sterling, having made his mark, is replaced by Sane. Very much a testimonial feel to this now.
63 min: Watford’s bubble has truly burst. They’re sitting back in damage limitation mode. That opening goal undid all of their determined first-half work in short order.
61 min: Only Sergio Aguero (18), Mohamed Salah, Harry Kane (both 17) and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (16) have scored more Premier League goals than Sterling, who suddenly has 15! City aren’t just involved in a title race; they’re launching a two-pronged attack on the Golden Boot!
GOAL! Manchester City 3-0 Watford (Sterling 59)
A hat-trick in 14 minutes for the irrepressible Raheem Sterling! David Silva plays a perfectly weighted ball down the inside left. Sterling burns past Janmaat, drops a shoulder to sashay his way inside past Kabasele, and dinks a lovely finish over Foster!
58 min: Aguero continues to buzz around in menacing fashion. He’s nearly released down the inside-left channel again, but Bernardo Silva’s chip is a little bit overcooked. Goal kick.
57 min: Gundogan is bossing the game from a deep position. Now he slips Aguero free on the left with a pass down the channel, but the striker’s gone too quickly. Offside.
55 min: Gracia has just had a look at a replay of the first City goal, on a nearby tablet, and is shaking his head in annoyance. He gives a critique to a nearby official. I’m guessing we’ve not heard the last of that game-changing decision. There will be talk, you know what folk are like.
53 min: Gundogan, dropping deep, chips a ball down the middle for Sterling, who chests down in the Watford box. Foster does very well to come off his line and fingertip the ball away from Sterling, though the ball only drops to Mahrez, who smashes a first-time shot wide left of an unguarded net. Mahrez is happy to see the offside flag go up for Sterling’s initial run, though that’s a poor decision, as he was clearly level with the last defender.
52 min: On the touchline, Javi Gracia doesn’t look impressed at all. Pep isn’t particularly happy either, ranting away at Mikel Arteta about something or other, but you know what he’s like. That quickfire double’s got the Etihad bouncing, anyway, as they celebrate their position at the top of the Premier League!
GOAL! Manchester City 2-0 Watford (Sterling 50)
Watford are beyond livid, and they’ve failed to clear their heads. David Silva, on the edge of the box, slips the ball wide right for Mahrez, and the ball’s rolled across the face of goal for a simple tap-in. A quick two-goal blitz that’s almost certain to send City four points clear of Liverpool!
GOAL! Manchester City 1-0 Watford (Sterling 48)
But after a long, long, long chat between referee and linesman, it’s been given! Janmaat, sliding in behind Sterling, had knocked the ball onto the City man before he shot. So Sterling was not offside any longer … though Janmaat had only made the challenge because Sterling was offside in the first place! Controversy there.
45 min 40 sec: Gundogan scoops a pass down the inside-left channel. Aguero chests it down to Sterling, who curls a shot around Foster and into the net! But it’s been disallowed, because Sterling was offside.
Watford get the second half underway. No half-time changes. City won’t be worrying yet; they were goalless at the break in their last two Premier League matches, against West Ham and Bournemouth, and found a way. Plenty of time left. And on that subject, here’s JR in Illinois. “I have a theory that Ben Foster is actually a superhero. His superpower is time wasting. His powers were at their peak at West Brom under Pulis. Heck, he would even time-waste sometimes when the Baggies were losing just to show off. He’s still got plenty of strength in his abilities though. I have him averaging about 28 seconds every time he’s got his hands on the ball today. Part of his power is the way he almost always manages to escape a booking but I have to say I can’t see him escaping a card today. If he does it will be one of his most heroic performances.”
HALF TIME: Manchester City 0-0 Watford
City depart to a frustrated rumble from the Etihad faithful. They’ve been all over Watford like a cheap suit, and created three superb chances to score. But they’ve all been missed, and at the break, Javi Gracia’s seven-change gamble is paying off. Expect City to turn it up after the restart, as they look to move four clear of Liverpool at the top.
45 min +1: The corner’s worked out to Mahrez, to the right of the D. He sends a rising screamer towards the top left; it’s inches over. Foster had his feet planted. He was never getting to that.
45 min: There will be one extra minute. And City will have a corner, because Aguero tears down the inside left and belts one towards the top left. Foster isn’t to be beaten at his near post, and parries round for a corner.
44 min: Space for Gundogan just inside the Watford box on the right, released by a lovely defence-splitting pass from Mahrez. But the resulting cross is too high and too long, and easily dealt with by the visitors. A little frustration in the crowd, who will have been expecting some sort of breeze, especially when the Watford teamsheet landed.
43 min: Watford can’t get out. City are probing and probing. Doucoure does well to strip Sterling of possession, but simply hacks clear and gives the ball straight back. Watford are doing pretty well to resist, but they’re also a little fortunate that City are running out of ideas. Kompany hoicks a long pass down the middle, and it’s easy meat for Foster.
41 min: Gundogan floats one in from the left. Britos does well to nick the ball away from Aguero … then gives it back. Another phase of City attack, and Zinchenko slips a ball down the left for Sterling. Kiko Femenia sticks out a boot to divert it out for a corner … but the referee points for a goal kick instead. Zinchenko is beyond livid, and yaps accordingly at the referee. He’s within his rights to get annoyed by that, of course, but a referee never changes his mind.
39 min: City win a corner down the right. It’s dealt with easily by Watford. Foster boots long. The ball goes all the way through to Ederson, who witlessly returns it to the Watford keeper. Ever so slightly farcical, and the crowd don’t seem particularly impressed with either keeper. A smattering of disapproval.
37 min: A rare Watford attack. Success slips a pass into the centre from the Watford left. Cleverley tries to spin Otamendi in the box but goes over. There’s a little bit of contact from behind, but not much, and Cleverley was playing for it. The referee’s not interested at all. No penalty.
36 min: Gundogan hopes to release the overlapping Zinchenko into the box with a cute flick down the inside left, but Foster reads it brilliantly to come racing off his line and claim.
35 min: City have had seven attempts on goal. Watford none. But you know which manager will be happier right now.