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the pardy poopers; CRYSTAL PALACE 2 MAN CITY 1 Murray 34, Puncheon 48 Y Toure 78 PREMIER LEAGUE SELHURST PARK It's Crystal clear that City's title dream is over as Pardew's men shatter Pellegrini.

Byline: JOHN CROSS Chief Football Writer

THE obituaries can now be written.

And they will not just be about Manchester City's title challenge after their tame surrender of the Premier League crown.

This defeat will also surely signal the beginning of the end of Manuel Pellegrini's rollercoaster two-year reign as boss. City have slipped nine points behind champions-elect Chelsea and Pellegrini's end-of-season collapse will also raise fears they will not even clinch one of the three automatic Champions League places.

Pellegrini's men have fallen behind Arsenal and Manchester United and finishing fourth would be the final insult as that would leave them facing the indignity of a Champions League play-off. They are on one hell of a slide, this was their fourth straight away defeat - even if they were unlucky to lose to Crystal Palace's party-poopers.

They had 74 per cent of possession, a staggering 22 shots compared to Palace's five and will feel aggrieved at key decisions from referee Michael Oliver.

Palace had to ride their luck at times but City's expensively-assembled squad is supposed to have enough pedigree and quality to win key games like these.

The truth is they have come up short far too often and that will be the long-term concern for City's owners and whether they can trust Pellegrini to be the man to rebuild for next season.

It does feel like the end of an era for this City side because it is an ageing squad and their standards have slipped very quickly in the 11 months since they won the title. They were not ruthless enough in front of goal while Palace scrapped, battled and fought for everything.

At times in the first half, Palace could not get the ball back. David Silva was denied by Palace keeper Julian Speroni, Sergio Aguero hit the post while the outstanding James McArthur made a heroic goal-line clearance.

Yet when Palace got a rare corner in the 34th minute, Alan Pardew's men took full advantage.

City did not clear their lines, Joel Ward pumped the ball back into the box and Joe Ledley headed on to Scott Dann.

City frantically appealed for an offside against Dann whose shot was blocked by Joe Hart's legs and Glenn Murray forced home the rebound at the back post.

Yet they had no one to blame but themselves for Palace's second goal. Fernandinho's needless foul on Murray gave Palace a 48th-minute free-kick on the edge of City's box.

Jason Puncheon stepped up and curled a stunning shot up and over the five-man wall, although questions must be asked about Hart's positioning as he left a lot of goal for the midfielder to aim at.

City built up ahead of steam which made it feel like the Alamo at times. Oliver ignored big calls for a penalty against Murray for an obvious handball and somehow McArthur cleared Fernandinho's shot almost from underneath his crossbar. Finally, inutes nce fell ho cut before le leftliance City got one back after 78 minutes when Dann's poor clearance fell straight to Yaya Toure who cut inside from the right before unleashing an unstoppable leftfoot shot into the corner.

on, it It was a moment of brilliance but, rather like City's season, it was not enough.

an ot n Toure went closest to an equaliser as his fierce shot took a wicked deflection and somehow Speroni kept the ball out with a flying save.

City could count themselves unlucky but over the course of the season they have not been good enough and the writing appears to be on the wall for some of their underperforming players.

h be on undern that PALACE who is er club surely urn to That is an accusation that could never be aimed at Palace and, in particular, Pardew who is four points above his former club Newcastle. That alone surely justifies his decision to return to Selhurst Park.

j.cross@trinitymirror.com ror.com

CAPTION(S):

JASE THE PALACE ACE Puncheon fires in a delightful free-kick over the City defence to give hosts a 2-0 advantage

KENT GAVIN
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Apr 7, 2015
Words:680
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