Manchester, May 23 (IANS) Ilkay Gundogan contributed a brace as Manchester City staged another incredible final day fightback, scoring three goals in five second-half minutes to dramatically beat Aston Villa 3-2 and retain the Premier League title at a spellbound Etihad.
Having gone 2-0 down midway through the second half Pep Guardiola’s side looked to be in danger of losing the crown to Liverpool, who beat Wolves 3-1
However, in amazing scenes reminiscent of their first Premier League triumph 10 years ago, with the same uncanny scoreline, City staged the most unbelievable of comebacks to seize the crown, as a brace from substitute Ilkay Gundogan and a Rodrigo strike lifted the lid off the Etihad.
It was a fightback full of grit and character and one worthy of any title-winning side.
And it meant Manchester City retained the crown, secured a fourth title in five years under Pep Guardiola, and handed departing Club captain Fernandinho the perfect emotional send-off, said a report on the club’s official website. It was their eighth Premier League title overall.
As thousands of fans filled the stadium, City made a nervous start as they sought the win that would confirm a fourth Premier League title in five years.
And Villa sent a stark reminder that they hadn’t merely come to make up the numbers, a timely early intervention from Fernandinho denying Brazilian compatriot Philippe Coutinho a clear header on goal.
They also restricted time and space as Pep Guardiola’s side sought to convert territory and possession into that all-important goal. And it almost arrived 25 minutes after a typical lung-bursting rampage by Kevin De Bruyne. His charge helped open a fraction of space for Phil Foden on the right side of the box, with his snapshot deflected agonizingly wide.
However, it was Villa who made the Etihad breakthrough as they struck with a breakaway 37th-minute goal through Matty Cash. Emiliano Buendia made the initial foray deep into City’s half before feeding the onrushing Lucas Digne on the left flank. The Frenchman delivered a pinpoint dipping cross into the heart of the box and fellow full-back Cash was there to head home past Ederson.
A tense afternoon had suddenly got even more nerve-racking and though City pressed and harried, Villa proved dogged and resolute, throwing bodies on the line to try and deny us.
There was a change to the City formation after the break with Oleks Zinchenko replacing Fernandinho, Stones moving to centre-half with the Ukrainian on the left of defence and Cancelo switched to the right full-back berth.
And Zinchenko almost made an instant impact when his superb twisting mazy run almost found Jesus before the Brazilian saw a close-range shot fizz over.
With half an ear trained to events at Anfield, the tension was almost unbearable as the game entered the last quarter.
Guardiola rang the changes, bringing on Raheem Sterling and Ilkay Gundogan in an effort to find an opening.
Instead, however it was Villa who struck what felt like a decisive second goal 21 minutes from time through Coutinho. The Brazilian latched onto a high ball on the edge of the City box and ran on the outside of Aymeric Laporte before dispatching a low shot past Ederson and inside the near post, the report said.
Sterling and Gundogan combined to narrow the deficit 15 minutes from time, with the German heading home his fellow substitute’s inviting arcing ball from eight yards.
And within two minutes there was pandemonium at the Etihad as City dramatically drew level. Zinchenko was the provider this time, breaking down the left channel before intelligently cutting the ball back to the waiting Rodri on the edge of the box. The Spaniard dispatched a low shot that rifled into the corner of the net to spark wild scenes.
But that was nothing compared to what happened two minutes later as Gundogan struck again to lift the roof off the Etihad with his second and City’s third goal of the night.
De Bruyne was the architect of the move, latching onto a loose ball and driving into the heart of the Villa box. The Belgian then pinged in one of his trademark curling balls and Gundogan directed it home with a superb finish.
It sparked scenes of absolute joy and mayhem on the pitch and sidelines but there was still work to be done especially with Liverpool beating Wolves 3-1.
But with the atmosphere at fever pitch and with City’s passionate fans acting as a 12th man, Guardiola’s side ran the clock down to secure the most dramatic but richly deserved of Premier League title wins.