Raheem Sterling was hailed as a “special” player by his Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola after another of the forward’s late match-winning goals sent the Etihad Stadium crowd into delirium on Wednesday.
Sterling’s lovely curled 96th-minute winner with almost the last kick of the game in the 2-1 win over Southampton was the fifth time this season the England international has scored a crucial goal in the last 10 minutes of a City match.
Not only did it ensure unbeaten City are again eight points clear at the top of the league, the touchline celebrations that it prompted gave the goal the feel of being a pivotal moment in the race.
“Raheem is a match-winner, I am so happy for him,” Guardiola told the BBC. “He is special, it was an amazing goal. It is more than important, it is beautiful.”
Sterling’s transformation under the Spaniard this season has also been something special. Once renowned as a player who might sparkle only intermittently, not only has he been scoring more goals than ever before but they have been important ones too.
He has become City’s deliverer whenever they have needed late inspiration and, for the third match in a row, he popped up with a late winner, following the 88th-minute goal against Feyenoord in the Europa League and the 84th-minute winner at Huddersfield Town.
In a side containing two of South America’s finest strikers, Sterling would have started long odds to be top scorer in the side but this was his 13th goal this term in all competitions, more than either Sergio Aguero (11) or Gabriel Jesus (10).
Yet once again, the difference was, as Guardiola had noted at the weekend: “He is winning games. Now he is a winning player.”
Playing for a winning team, he could have added. This was City’s club-record 12th successive league victory, demonstrating again that even on nights when their football does not catch the breath, they have the steel, nous and spirit to eke out a win.
“What impresses the most is the heart with which they play. What happened in the locker room (afterwards) was amazing. You have to enjoy these situations, you never know what will happen in the future,” Guardiola enthused.
“We want to win the league but you have to celebrate when you score in the last breath like that.
“It was an astonishing end to the game. It means a lot. They had 10 guys in the box, it was so complicated to attack them. At the end our momentum kept going, Raheem scores a fantastic goal. A day we’ll remember for the rest of our lives.”