TOP AT CHRISTMAS: Silva helps City cruise to victory at St James Park
PA - Owen Humphreys
Bernardo Silva staged a midfield masterclass as Premier League leaders Manchester City swept aside struggling Newcastle 4-0 to claim a record 34th win of 2021.
The Portuguese, aided and abetted by Rodri and Kevin De Bruyne, steered City to a commanding victory at St James’ Park to eclipse Liverpool’s mark of 33 top-flight wins in a calendar year set in 1982.
Goals from Ruben Dias and Joao Cancelo before the break and Riyad Mahrez and Raheem Sterling after it secured the points with the minimum of fuss as Newcastle were once against left to count the cost of a combination of dreadful defending, shot-shyness and questionable decisions.
Eddie Howe’s men have now won just one of the 18 league games they have played this season and while their fate will not be dictated by what they achieve against the division’s powerhouses, a worrying trend shows little sign of abating.
Having been repeatedly punished for their own mistakes in recent games, the Magpies set out with a makeshift back four and knowing there was no margin for error against the reigning champions, but capitulated in depressing fashion within five minutes.
Goalkeeper Martin Dubravka needlessly conceded a corner after dwelling on Jamaal Lascelles’ back-pass and after De Bruyne’s initial delivery had been half cleared, Ciaran Clark inexplicably failed to intervene when Cancelo played the ball back across the six-yard box and Dias headed into the unguarded net.
Joelinton might have dragged the home side back into it within five minutes when he drilled a low shot just wide after latching onto Mahrez’s weak clearing header, but an already daunting task had assumed even greater proportions.
To their credit, they regrouped swiftly and while they looked vulnerable with Silva and De Bruyne picking holes in their rearguard at will, they posed a threat in attack with Joelinton prominent from a deep-sitting position and Miguel Almiron injecting pace, if not precision.
However, their hard work was left to count for nothing when Cancelo combined with De Bruyne and Mahrez before leaving Joe Willock and Isaac Hayden in his wake and smashing a 27th-minute shot past the helpless Dubravka.
Ryan Fraser, much to his astonishment, saw appeals for a penalty waved away by referee Martin Atkinson after he had been wiped out by sliding keeper Ederson, who had earlier flattened Callum Wilson, and Hayden headed wide from the Scotland international’s 42nd-minute corner.
Nevertheless, the visitors headed off at the break two goals to the good and with several more gears available to them.
Howe sent on Allan Saint-Maximin for Willock at the break and the Frenchman’s pace immediately presented City with a different problem, although it took a brilliant reaction save by Dubravka to deny Gabriel Jesus after Silva had headed Cancelo’s 53rd-minute cross back across goal, and he had to be at his best once again to palm away Sterling’s curling attempt.
They added a third with 26 minutes remaining when Mahrez converted Oleksandr Zinchenko’s cross with a VAR review correcting an initial offside decision, and Sterling’s strike from Jesus’ 86th-minute cross deepened the gloom on Tyneside.
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