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Manchester City 1-0 Crystal Palace
EDIN Dzeko’s second half strike denied Crystal Palace a priceless point at the Etihad Stadium as Manchester City were made to sweat by a determined display from Tony Pulis’ side.
The Bosnian striker found the target in the 66th minute to seal victory and the Premier League top spot for a disjointed City team as Palace remained in 17th place ahead of Sunderland, Fulham and West Ham.
Palace remained unchanged from their 1-0 win at Aston Villa on Boxing Day with Cameron Jerome retaining his place up front ahead of Marouane Chamakh, who returned from a suspension, and Dwight Gayle.
The first half for Palace closely resembled the opening 45 minutes at Villa Park - men behind the ball and a resolute defensive display while enjoying a few ventures forward.
Much to Palace’s credit, a much-changed City team couldn’t find a way to Julian Speroni’s goal despite long spells of possession.
In fact, the first shot on target of the game came from Palace with Yannick Bolasie’s 27th-minute volley comfortably saved by Joe Hart.
Palace were then forced into a change when Chamakh replaced Jerome, who collided with Hart while trying to reach a cross from the left wing.
City finally began to test Speroni towards the end of the first half and the Palace keeper was forced into action in first half injury time when he tipped Fernandinho’s header over the bar.
The frustration from the home fans at half-time said it all, a job well done by Pulis’ men in the first half.
But things almost got better for the visitors straight after the break.
Jason Puncheon found an acre of space in between the City defence and midfield and he forced Hart into a full-stretch save with a powerful shot from 25 yards.
From Barry Bannan’s resulting corner, Chamakh rose highest at the near post but couldn’t quite keep his header down and watched the ball as it went a foot over the bar.
Manuel Pellegrini then called for the cavalry, sending on Samir Nasri and Alvaro Negredo in place of Fernandinho and Dedryck Boyata.
But it was still Palace looking the more likely to score and Mile Jedinak’s piledriver from distance had to be tipped over by Hart.
Pellegrini was then preparing to bring Yaya Toure on but, just as the Ivorian midfielder finished his warm-up, City clicked and took the lead in the 66th minute.
Nasri’s in-swinging cross from the left wasn’t fully cleared and Jesus Navas cut the ball back to Dzeko, who wrong-footed Speroni and slotted the ball home from 12 yards, much to the relief of the Etihad faithful.
Palace weren’t finished yet, though, and Hart was forced into his best save of the afternoon as Joel Ward’s looping effort from 30 yards looked set to find the bottom corner before a full-stretch dive from the England keeper denied him and Palace an equaliser.
And then an unmarked Ward headed just wide from the resulting corner as City somehow stayed in front.
Pulis’ last roll of the dice was to throw on Jonathan Williams and Boxing Day hero Gayle, but there was to be no drama like Boxing Day at Villa Park as City held out for all three points.
Palace return home on New Year’s Day when they entertain Norwich at Selhurst Park.
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Crystal Palace: Speroni, Mariappa, Gabbidon, Delaney, Parr, Puncheon, Jedinak, Ward, Bannan (Gayle 81), Bolasie (Williams 76), Jerome (Chamakh 35). Subs not used: Price, Campana, Phillips, Moxey. Att: 47, 107
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