Sergio Aguero helped Manchester City avoid a damaging home defeat by Liverpool with an impressive equaliser in a 2-2 draw at the Etihad Stadium on Sunday.
The result leaves the defending champions nine points behind leaders Manchester United, although Liverpool looked well capable of inflicting a loss that would have left the deficit in double digits.
Liverpool’s former City youngster Daniel Sturridge cancelled out an Edin Dzeko effort, refusing to celebrate after scoring the first goal City had conceded this year, before Steven Gerrard fired the visitors ahead from 30 yards.
Aguero salvaged a point for City 12 minutes from time after Liverpool goalkeeper Jose Reina inexplicably chased him to the edge of the area, giving the Argentine the opportunity to chip over his head and into the open net from a difficult angle.
Dzeko’s 23rd-minute opening goal had come somewhat against the run of play, but it was the Liverpool equaliser, six minutes later, that provided the biggest bone of contention in an absorbing game.
The first Liverpool goal stemmed from a City attack that broke down after Dzeko fell under a challenge from Daniel Agger, prompting home players and supporters alike to appeal for the visitors to put the ball out of play.
However, referee Anthony Taylor allowed play to continue and Liverpool launched a patient attack.
It culminated in Gerrard finding Sturridge with a short, square pass and the in-form centre-forward sent a superb 18-yard shot flying past the dive of Joe Hart.
Significantly, Dzeko immediately rose to his feet after the goal, requiring no treatment, and was booked for verbally abusing the referee’s assistant who had failed to award him a foul in the first instance.
Yet, however controversial the equaliser may have been, it was just reward for a Liverpool side who edged the first half in terms of chances created.
Reina was forced to tip a powerful 20-yard drive from David Silva over the crossbar after only 52 seconds but it was not until they took the lead that the defending champions carved out another meaningful opening.
Slick passes from Aguero and Silva sent James Milner sprinting to the left-hand by-line and, with Agger appealing in vain for offside, Dzeko was left with the routine task of tapping the ball into an empty net.
Liverpool might already have beaten Hart by that stage, not least after 13 minutes when the England international badly misjudged Glen Johnson’s long pass and Pablo Zabaleta was required to block after Sturridge had intercepted.
After the Liverpool equaliser, City struggled to get to grips with a Reds side unrecognisable from the one knocked out of the FA Cup by third-tier Oldham Athletic seven days earlier.
Zabaleta almost rolled a back pass into his own net after a miscommunication with Hart and Jose Enrique’s deep cross was met on the volley by Luis Suarez, who shot directly at the City goalkeeper.
It did not take long for Liverpool to place City under pressure again in the second half.
A Suarez volley forced Joleon Lescott into a desperate clearance and Sturridge was booked for diving after a threatening burst into the City box.
Suarez rolled another shot just beyond the post before Gerrard showed him the way to goal with the spectacular second and Sturridge almost made it 3-1 as he met a Gerrard free-kick and steered a glancing header just wide.
That narrow miss looked all the more costly as Aguero equalised for City within minutes, setting up a tense finale that could have gone either way.