Manchester City's title challenge took a severe dent today following a 1-0 defeat at Swansea City, seeing them relinquish their lead at the top of the table to cross town rivals Manchester United. City may have felt they did enough to win in the second half having been crushed in the first, but Luke Moore's goal seems to have shifted the balance of power across the city.
It was an intriguing opening 15 minutes at the Liberty Stadium, with chances in short supply and neither team taking a strong footing in the game, although it could have been argued that Swansea nicked the first few rounds.
Wayne Routledge blazed a chance well over the bar after four minutes, but it was only a minute later where he had his main moment of the first half, winning a penalty for the hosts, and this was very much a case of a penalty 'won' as opposed to awarded.
Routledge, chasing down a loose ball in the area, nicked it ahead of Joe Hart who was coming out to meet it, but the City keeper, realizing he had no chance of getting the ball did all he could to pull out. Routledge, realizing he had no chance of getting the ball he'd toed away from the England keeper, left his leg dangling to be hit. It wasn't, but referee Lee Mason pointed to the spot anyway.
Scott Sinclair stepped up to take the penalty, struck low and weakly to Hart's right, it was an easy save for the England keeper. The first penalty Swansea have missed this season, and indeed the first penalty Joe Hart has saved this season.
Swansea didn't appear to be too disheartened by this however, and went on to dominate for large spells of the first half. So much so that City were limited to just one wayward Mario Balotelli shot in the opening half an hour, which was swiftly followed by an effort, if you can call it that, by the Italian from inside his own half. Home fans questioning the move via the medium of song.
Swansea continued to dominate as the game headed to half time, Danny Graham wasted a good chance when shooting on the turn from just inside the area. The home side just seemed more up for it, moving the ball about at will, and penning City back into their own half for nearly the entire first half.
Roberto Mancini cut a frustrated on the near sideline, and it was on 37 minutes when it seemed that enough was enough for the Italian, as he withdrew Gareth Barry for Sergio Aguero in a purely tactical move. Barry making his way to the bench looked equally as furious as his manager, complaining to assistant manager David Platt and throwing his boots to the ground.
The change of formation and personnel seemed to work a little as the visitors came back into the game with a period of five corners in a row, starting in the 42nd minute and taking us right through to half-time. None of these however could be converted, with David Silva lashing wide on the final one.
City cam out the blocks much, much better after the break, with the string being pulled left, right and center by Yaya Toure who was imperious throughout the second half.
It started with Aguero's shot narrowly wide of Michel Vorm's goal under no pressure, while Samir Nasri and Micah Richards came a little closer with powerful drives which were unfortunately straight down the throat of the Dutch keeper.
There were ugly scenes around the hour mark when Balotelli went down in the area under pressure from Joe Allen. No penalty was given, and rightly so as the contact was minimal, but the away side were convinced it was and a surrounding of the referee, lead by Yaya Toure and Sergio Aguero ensued as Balotelli in full petulant mode lay in the area scratching his head.
In a role reversal from the first half, it was Swansea who spent most the second half pinned in their own area, with the nearest they came to scoring coming via Kolo Toure, who struggled to clear a low cross into the six yard box by Graham.
Football has a habit of throwing up some odd moments, and this game certainly had one. Luke Moore, on as a substitute only minutes earlier for Danny Graham threw a spanner in the works of City's machine-like second half performance, and in the grander scheme of things, the title race when he headed past Joe Hart for the game's only goal.
It was Stefan Savic at fault when he lost the ball cheaply on the halfway line to Gylfi Sigurdsson. The Icelandic midfielder charged at the City defence, fed Angel Rangel down the right hand side, who in turn fed Routledge. The cross was inch perfect, and the City back line at sixes and sevens. Moore had the simplest of headers to give his side the lead.
City came back strongly in the final five minutes of normal time. Balotelli sent a pile-driver to Vorm's near post, Kolo Toure similarly from a more central position forced the keeper to palm over.
The visitors thought they'd drawn level in the 88th minute when Micah Richards rose to a Gael Clichy cross, but assistant Sian Massey correctly ruled the right-back offside.
The final whistle blew after four minutes of stoppages, during which City's attacking threat wilted, as did their title challenge. Among the elated Swansea players, there was a look of resignation was consigned to the faces of City players, staff and fans.