STERLING JOB: Raheem finds the net as City edge closer to knockouts
PA - Martin Rickett
Raheem Sterling netted as Manchester City struck three times in the second half to move closer to the Champions League last 16 with a 4-1 win over Club Brugge.
Phil Foden gave Pep Guardiola’s side an early lead in the Group A clash at the Etihad Stadium but a freak own goal from John Stones threatened to give the hosts an awkward night.
A draw might have damaged qualification hopes with a tricky clash against Paris St Germain still to come but goals from Riyad Mahrez, Sterling and Gabriel Jesus eased nerves.
The result meant City, who reached the final last year, now only need a point from their last two group games to return to the knockout stages.
The evening began on a sour note as Brugge fans – as they had done ahead of the game between the two sides in Belgium a fortnight ago – chose to boo players from both sides taking the knee.
When the action began, City looked keen to put Saturday’s unforeseen loss to Crystal Palace behind them and cement their grip on a top-two spot in the group.
Kevin De Bruyne was unexpectedly named among the substitutes in one of three changes from the weekend loss – perhaps with the weekend’s derby at Manchester United in mind – but City were straight on the front foot.
The hosts controlled most of the possession and Foden and Bernardo Silva both had early chances.
It came as no surprise when City claimed the lead after 15 minutes but, what could not have been predicted was that Brugge would respond almost immediately in what was a dramatic two-minute passage of play.
First Joao Cancelo hit the post with a neat effort and Foden was also denied. City managed to keep the ball alive and they eventually broke through when Cancelo was played through by Mahrez and his cross was tapped in by Foden.
Stung into action, Brugge went straight to the other end and Hans Vanaken forced a fine save from Ederson from the edge of the area. The ball was quickly crossed back in and Silva’s hasty clearance caught Stones in the face and rebounded into his own goal.
That goal, despite being fortuitous in its nature, energised Brugge and Charles De Ketelaere shot at Ederson before only being denied another chance by a fine recovery tackle from Cancelo.
City remained the stronger side, however, and after Ilkay Gundogan went close in the latter stages of the first half, they upped the tempo in the second period.
Cancelo fired narrowly over the bar and Stones headed at former Liverpool goalkeeper Simon Mignolet.
De Ketelaere threatened again for Brugge but City made their next chance count as Mahrez headed home from a Cancelo cross in the 54th minute.
Gundogan then controlled and shot just over before providing the cross for Sterling, who had already made one dangerous run in his three minutes on the field, to tap in City’s third in the 72nd minute.
The England forward did not celebrate his first goal City goal since August, perhaps out of relief after a difficult spell in and out of the side, but was congratulated by all of his outfield team-mates.
Youngster Cole Palmer looked lively after entering the fray in the final 10 minutes and another substitute, Jesus, completed the scoring with the last kick of the game.
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