Penalty save denies City victory, keeps EPL title race alive

Another Premier League trophy was virtually in Manchester City’s hands. All it needed was Riyad Mahrez to convert a penalty, like he had done in each of his previous seven attempts from the spot this season.

Not this time.

There’s still plenty of life in this absorbing title race after Mahrez had a penalty saved in the 86th minute, leaving City to settle for a 2-2 draw at West Ham on Sunday and a four-point lead over Liverpool heading into the final week of the season.

Liverpool heads to Southampton for its game in hand on Tuesday, needing at least a point to take the title race to Sunday — the last day of the season. A win is probably required, though, given City has a superior goal difference of 7 compared to Liverpool.

City finishes at home to Aston Villa and that throws up an intriguing storyline. Villa is coached by Liverpool great Steven Gerrard, who was never able to win the league for Liverpool. He still could — but as a manager of another team.

Liverpool hosts Wolverhampton in its last game and still, somehow, retains hope of an unprecedented quadruple of major trophies having won both domestic cups and reached the Champions League final.

“We couldn’t expect different with this Liverpool — they are almost the perfect team,” City manager Pep Guardiola said. “We didn’t expect to win the title with three, four or five games to spare.”

It could have basically been over by now, however, had Mahrez put his spot kick past Fabianski.

Guardiola hardly flinched when Fabianski dived to his left and clawed away the penalty, which was at an inviting height for a goalkeeper. After a few seconds, Guardiola scratched the side of his head and rubbed his face, and didn’t appear too disheartened at the final whistle as he shared an embrace with Mark Noble — West Ham’s long-serving midfielder who is retiring at the end of the season and was making his final home appearance for the club.

It’s Mahrez’s first failure from the spot this season, but he has history. In the 2018-19 campaign — another City vs. Liverpool title race that went to the final day — the Algeria winger smashed a penalty over the crossbar late in the game in a 0-0 draw at Anfield.

City went on to claim the title and is favorite to do so again.

“We won’t look at anyone else — we’ll just try and win our game,” Guardiola said. “I’m pretty sure the Etihad Stadium will be full and they’ll be supporting us.”

RELEGATION FIGHT

It’s just as tense at the other end of the standings, though Leeds provided a twist in the relegation fight.

Leeds scored in the second minute of stoppage time through Pascal Struijk to salvage a 1-1 draw against Brighton and move out of the relegation zone at Burnley’s expense.

Burnley lost 1-0 at Tottenham a few hours earlier — Harry Kane scored the winner from the penalty spot — and dropped into third-to-last place, one point behind Leeds.

That left Everton with the chance to guarantee top-flight survival by beating Brentford, only to lose 3-2 after having defender Jarrad Branthwaite sent off in the 18th minute — when Everton was leading 1-0 — and then substitute Salomon Rondon red-carded in the 88th.

Richarlison had reclaimed the lead for Everton with a penalty in first-half stoppage time, but Brentford replied with two goals in two minutes from the 62nd.

Everton stayed on 36 points, with Leeds on 35 and Burnley on 34.

Everton and Burnley have two games left and Leeds has just one.

CHAMPIONS LEAGUE QUALIFICATION

The race for Champions League qualification is heading for the final day, too, with Tottenham climbing into fourth place — two points ahead of north London rival Arsenal — by beating Burnley.

Kane grabbed what proved to be the winning goal in the eighth minute of first-half stoppage time, converting from the spot after the ball struck the outstretched arm of Burnley striker Ashley Barnes following a flick by Tottenham defender Davinson Sanchez.

Over to you, Arsenal.

Mikel Arteta’s team has two games remaining compared to Tottenham’s one, the first coming at Newcastle on Monday.

Tottenham finishes the season at Norwich, while Arsenal hosts Everton.

MESSY END

Watford’s season is coming to a messy end under departing manager Roy Hodgson, a 5-1 home loss to Leicester leaving his team a point above last-place Norwich.

Jamie Vardy and Harvey Barnes both scored twice and James Maddison netted the other for Leicester, which is on course for a fifth straight top-half finish.

Watford tied the all-time top-flight record of 15 home losses in a season with this latest setback coming in front of Rob Edwards, the incoming head coach who is replacing the 74-year-old Hodgson.

Joao Pedro’s deflected effort gave an early lead to Watford, which is already relegated along with Norwich.

Norwich drew 1-1 at Wolves and it was the same score between Aston Villa and Crystal Palace.

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More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/hub/soccer and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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Steve Douglas is at https://twitter.com/sdouglas80

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