MANCHESTER, United Kingdom, Jan 2 – Manchester City overcame the first-half dismissal of Fernandinho and another Claudio Bravo error to secure a nervy 2-1 Premier League victory over Burnley on Monday.
Fernandinho’s third red card in six games will lead to a four-game suspension, but after City’s worst first half to a league season in eight years manager Pep Guardiola will be relieved just to get the three points through goals from Gael Clichy and Sergio Aguero.
French full-back Clichy struck a rare goal on 58 minutes after a Bacary Sagna cross was headed to him on the corner of the area by the visitors’ Michael Keane.
Clichy cut inside a half-hearted challenge from Scott Arfield before planting a low shot through the crowded box and into the bottom right-hand corner.
Four minutes later City took further control when Kevin De Bruyne’s pass played Raheem Sterling into the area, thanks to a slip by defender Ben Mee.
Sterling fell as goalkeeper Tom Heaton blocked at his feet, but substitute Aguero was on hand to steer the ball into an empty net from a wide angle via the post and defender Matt Lowton.
Yet City still faced an anxious conclusion to the game after a mistake by goalkeeper Bravo from a corner saw Nicolas Otamendi clear off the line and Mee fire in the rebound off the underside of the crossbar.
The win allowed City to close to within two points of second-place Liverpool, who were held 2-2 at Sunderland, and to within seven of Chelsea, ahead of the leaders’ trip to Tottenham Hotspur on Wednesday.
City had made a bright start before Fernandinho’s rash challenge left referee Lee Mason with little choice but to show him a straight red card on 32 minutes.
The Brazilian flew into a challenge on Johann Berg Gudmundsson with both feet off the ground, which saw him become the sixth City player to be sent off in Guardiola’s 30 games at the helm.
Instantly, Burnley had their best chance of the game, Ashley Barnes shooting well wide from a promising position on the edge of the area, and they enjoyed the majority of possession for the rest of the first half.
But Guardiola, who tore off his overcoat in frustration at Fernandinho’s premature departure, should have seen his team in the lead by that point.
– Fingertip save –
After dropping the high-profile trio of John Stones, Aguero and David Silva following Saturday’s 1-0 defeat at Liverpool, City started with pace and intent.
On six minutes Mee’s poor pass was intercepted by Sterling and he played Kelechi Iheanacho clean through, only for the youngster to be denied by Heaton.
Yaya Toure worked the ricochet back to Sterling who was, again, denied by Heaton, who saved bravely at his feet.
Moments later Iheanacho got into a promising position in the Burnley area, but succeeded only in lifting his shot over the target.
After Arfield wasted a free-kick just outside the City area, Guardiola’s team broke upfield, only for Sterling and Jesus Navas to squander what had appeared a promising break.
City pressed and, on 18 minutes, Heaton proved unbeatable again as he dived smartly to cover Toure’s 18-yard shot, but Fernandinho’s loss dramatically altered the pattern of the game.
Burnley, who have won just one away point on their league travels all season, must have fancied their chances of improving that statistic.
But Guardiola’s response was to bring on Silva and Aguero, two of the mainstays of City’s success in recent years, at the interval.
Aguero might have done better after Sterling’s shot was blocked and the loose ball spun in his direction, but defender Stephen Ward reacted quickly to intercept.
The three goals quickly followed, in the space of 12 minutes, although chances were scarce for the remainder of the game.
Aguero and Burnley’s Andre Gray both missed the target with half-chances, while Keane’s injury-time shot bounced awkwardly off the ground and forced Bravo into a fingertip save.