Pep Guardiola said Manchester City refused to “feel sorry for ourselves” after going in a goal down at half-time against Luton before hitting back to claim a 2-1 Premier League triumph at Kenilworth Road.
The hosts looked on course to inflict a fifth-consecutive winless game on City when Elijah Adebayo rose at the back post to head in Andros Townsend’s cross on the stroke of the interval.
It was just reward for an opening period in which they had weathered the champions’ early pressure well, with Guardiola’s side resorting to shooting from distance after goalkeeper Thomas Kaminski had denied them with a string of fine saves, most impressively from Phil Foden’s low drive.
— Manchester City (@ManCity) December 10, 2023
And Rob Edwards’ side held their lead beyond the hour mark as a stunning victory appeared within reach, until the champions turned the game on its head inside of three whirlwind minutes.
First, Bernardo Silva pounced on a loose ball to lash home an equaliser into the bottom corner before Jack Grealish stabbed between the legs of Kaminski to send Luton to their second narrow home defeat in five days.
And Guardiola said his players did not allow the prospect of losing for the second time in a week and ending the weekend seven points off the Premier League summit to distract them in the second half.
“The most important thing to change the dynamic is winning games,” he said. “That helps a lot.
“We didn’t get results sometimes when we deserved, but that’s what it is.
“Today was a good test for the fact that we played a really, really good first half against this type of team, this type of stadium. We did it perfect. We concede not much, created enough chances to score.”
City went down 1-0 away to Aston Villa on Wednesday having previously dropped points in draws with Tottenham, Liverpool and Chelsea.
Victory at Luton ensured they stayed in touch with the sides above them in the table – the Reds, Villa and last season’s runners-up Arsenal – and cut the gap at the top to four points.
Guardiola admitted he had been concerned by the prospect of failing to win for a fifth game in a row when Adebayo headed Luton in front.
“I thought about that,” he said. “But I said to (the players) ‘what do we have do to, feel sorry for ourselves?’ We don’t have to feel sorry for ourselves. It’s football, it’s life, it’s happened.
“What are we going to do? Complain about being unlucky? Strikers, be more aggressive, score goals guys. Defend better the cross in the last minute and be positive.
“We have to remember ourselves. Big characters, big teams, like this team is. They are defined in these situations.
“I don’t like to see the players when we win 3-0, 4-0 in 10, 14, 15, 18 games in a row. That doesn’t define who we really are. Four games without winning – 1-0 (down) in a tough stadium.
“They don’t need to prove to me what they are capable of, because they are an extraordinary group of players and characters. But the competition demands to prove it again. It’s normal to say ‘City are not the same – it’s over’.
“Yeah, that’s nice, let them prove we want to still be there. Let’s do it. It’s so nice. We need that.”
Guardiola confirmed that top-scorer Erling Haaland, who missed the game with a stress fracture to his foot, would likely also miss the midweek trip to Belgrade to face Red Star and next weekend’s clash with Crystal Palace.
Winger Jeremy Doku was also missing against Luton.
The manager added: “Week by week will dictate how (Haaland) feels. Doku is muscular, it’s not a big issue like Kevin (De Bruyne) was.”
The boss on the City defeat. pic.twitter.com/hfOsMMmIWu
— Luton Town FC (@LutonTown) December 10, 2023
Luton boss Edwards reflected on disappointing result that nevertheless proved his team were moving in the right direction.
“If we continue to perform the way we have this week, we can achieve something really special this year,” he said. “I like the way the team is going. I love how hard they’re working for each other.
“I think we’re starting to change the narrative around Luton Town Football Club.”