BURNLEY 1, MAN CITY 0
It was a match Manchester City could not afford to lose if they are to remain challengers for the Barclays Premier League title.
But bottom-three side Burnley caused a seismic shock with their victory against the reigning champions at Turf Moor.
George Boyd’s second-half strike, worthy of winning any match, dealt a massive blow to City whose display was anything but championship class.
And how City will live to rue the four points they have let slip against Burnley who also caused a shock in December with their 2-2 draw at the Etihad Stadium.
The result – second bottom beating second top – showed the beauty of the English game as it was something which ought not to have happened.
City, with a £345million squad, were up against opponents whose total transfer outlay since they became a League club in 1882 is a mere £50m.
Sean Dyche’s side – remarkably 10 of the starters were in the side which won promotion last season – did not fear the reputations of their opponents who produced a battling display and their honest graft prevailed.
They also enjoyed a slice of good fortunes as City ought to have won an injury-time penalty for Ben Mee’s challenge of Pablo Zabaleta.
And though Burnley remain in the relegation places, this win will give their hopes of beating the drop an enormous lift.
As for City, their chances of catching Chelsea receded and they will have to beware of being overhauled.
City manager Manuel Pellegrini caused surprise with his assessment of his side’s display.
He said: “It was a normal performance and I didn’t think we played very, very bad.
“We created three or four chances and they didn’t create a lot apart from the goal. We need to create more chances and to improve.”
Pellegrini admitted the defeat was a blow to City’s title hopes saying: “Every point dropped will make it more difficult but. while we still have a mathematic chance, we will keep fighting.”
Burnley boss Dyche thought his side deserved their modicum of luck.
“It was deserved. I think we edged it. it was a close game, but I am delighted with the outcome and performance.”
Dyche added that the win will reinforce the belief Burnley can remain in the top flight.
City were clearly not underestimating lowly Burnley, even though the glamour Champions League game at Barcelona is only four days away.
Pellegrini made five changes from the side which beat Leicester, but you could not question the quality of the players brought in – Vincent Kompany, Zabaleta, Gael Clichy, Fernandinho and Edin Dzeko.
The players standing down were Wilfried Bony, Fernando Reges, Bacary Sagna, Aleksandar Kolarov and Eliaquim Mangala. City also had plenty in reserve on the bench, the likes of Bony, Samir Nasri, Stevan Jovetic and Frank Lampard.
Burnley had former City pair Kieran Trippier and Ben Mee in their line up while Danny Ings and Sam Vokes were the front duo whose goals propelled them into the Premier League.
City carved open the Burnley defence early in the second half, but David Silva’s poor touch drove him wide and his angled shot was comfortably saved by Heaton.
Burnley’s best chance of the game after 56 minutes was a volley from Boyd which flashed not far wide as they remained a threat on the break.
And City had a shock when the Clarets took a 61st minute lead through the livewire Boyd.
City conceded a free kick 30 yards from their goal after Martin Demichelis was booked for a foul on Ings.
Trippier’s free kick was headed clear by Kompany, but only as far as Boyd whose struck the sweetest of half volleys from 22 yards low to the left of keeper Joe Hart for his fifth goal of the season.
Pellegrini’s response was to bring on Bony for Dzeko as City desperately needed a way back into the game and not to lose even more ground in the title race.
City also threw on Lampard and Jovetic as it was a game they just could not afford to lose.
Aguero ought to have equalised with nine minutes left, but headed over at the far post from Yaya Toure’s cross. It was a bad miss by his standards.
City had a penalty appeal in stoppage time after Mee’s challenge on Zabaleta. Replays suggested contact, but the Argentine went down too easily which probably swayed referee Andre Marriner.