WEST BROM 0, MAN CITY 0
Suddenly Manchester City are looking far from untouchables as the Barclays Premier League took another dramatic twist on Boxing Day.
As United were putting five goals past hapless Wigan Athletic, City were being held at West Bromwich Albion.
True City remain top of the tree at Christmas, but now only on goal difference from their neighbours who are breathing down their necks. And United are even starting to erode City’s once massive superior goal tally.
City’s defeat at Chelsea in the previous away match followed by firing a first blank in the league at The Hawthorns is the first sign of a stumble.
And as United crank up the pressure, City manager Roberto Mancini is starting to feel the heat complaining about the television scheduling.
Mancini is unhappy there are only two days between their New Year’s Day match at Sunderland and the home game against Liverpool who have two extra days to prepare.
“I’m not happy with this situation because two days’ rest, when we are already playing every three days, is not correct. I don’t know why this is. Well I do – it’s for television,” he remarked.
This was City’s most unconvincing display of the season and they could easily have fallen behind after only three minutes when Chris Brunt cut inside and fired narrowly wide.
Paul Scharner’s drive also brought a diving save from Joe Hart.
It was a measure of how well the Baggies defended in the opening half that City were restricted to a handful of openings.
Samir Nasr’s drive was easily saved by Ben Foster, David Silva shot over and Mario Balotelli’s free kick struck the defensive wall and flew wide.
The match could have gone either way after the restart as play opened up and became more expansive with both sides striking the frame of the goal.
Balotelli let fly with a speculative effort from 25-plus yards which dipped over Foster hitting the crossbar.
Shane Long had a great chance to give the hosts the lead, but headed wide at the far post as he looked to convert a Jerome Thomas cross.
Both sides could have snatched a winner in the last 20 minutes.
Thomas was denied by the upright as his drive comprehensively beat Hart as the Baggies sensed they might cause an upset.
However, City would have snatched all three points but for a last-ditch tackle from Gareth McAuley who was free in front of goal having eluded the offside trap.
Baggies manager Roy Hodgson insisted the title race is now wide open.
He said: “In some ways the riches are on the blue side of Manchester, but to some extent the quality and talent are on the red side.
“It will be a fantastic duel right through to the end, but we will have to wait and see if Tottenham, Chelsea, Liverpool and Arsenal can make their voices heard, too.”