Manchester City edge towards Premier League title after Haaland sinks Spurs

<span><a class="link " href="" data-i13n="sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link" data-ylk="slk:Erling Haaland;sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link;itc:0">Erling Haaland</a> tucks the ball home from close range to give <a class="link " href="" data-i13n="sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link" data-ylk="slk:Manchester City;sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link;itc:0">Manchester City</a> the lead.</span><span>Photograph: Tom Jenkins/The Guardian</span>

Is there a surer bet in football than Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City doing what they need to do – in other words, win and keep winning – when they have the Premier League title within their grasp?

On the three previous occasions that they have been involved in neck‑and-neck races for the line under Guardiola – the margin for error slim to non-existent – they have never slipped. Their winning sequences have been long and ­devastating. Here we are again, City closing on yet another title, a sixth in total under Guardiola, this victory an eighth in a row when the pressure is at its most acute.

Related: ‘He saves us – otherwise Arsenal are champions’: Guardiola hails Ortega

For one night only, everybody connected to Arsenal had turned into Tottenham fans. They were des­perate for their hated rivals to do something neighbourly. Any kind of result for Spurs would have kept Arsenal on top of the table before the final set of fixtures on Sunday.

It did not happen because this is not how it goes with City, ­however close it was in the final stages, ­however excruciating it must have been for Arsenal to watch. Because with City leading through an Erling Haaland goal shortly after the second-half restart, Spurs had the chances to equalise.

Stefan Ortega was the unexpected City hero. Guardiola’s starting goalkeeper, Ederson, had been forced off with a facial injury after a shud­dering collision with Cristian Romero. ­Ederson did not want to come off; he was incandescent and took out his feelings with a kick at the seats in the technical area. Yet everyone at City would have reason to thank Ortega.

The goalkeeper made a huge block to deny Dejan Kulusevski, on as a Spurs substitute, before ­keeping him out again at close quarters. But that was trumped in the 86th minute when Brennan ­Johnson robbed Manuel Akanji and sent Son Heung‑min clean through. With north London holding its breath for so many reasons, Ortega saved again.

Guardiola had thrown himself to the ground in anticipation of Son scoring as everybody expected him to do. He has hurt City on many ­occasions in the past. But when Ortega blocked, Ange Postecoglou raged at the heavens. It was the ­latest illustration of Spurs’ achilles heel under Postecoglou – the frequency with which they have failed to master the big moments.

City had survived and they enjoyed a calm finale when Haaland made it 2‑0 from the penalty spot after Pedro Porro had fouled another substitute, Jérémy Doku. The move was sparked by the excellent Phil Foden; he had also been involved in the ­opening goal and City will be crowned again if – or surely when – they beat West Ham on Sunday.

Spurs’ Champions League hopes are over; they will need a point at Sheffield United on the last day to ensure fifth place and a Europa League finish and it was Aston Villa who were confirmed as the Premier League’s final representative in Europe’s premier competition. Their delight at a first qualification since they played in the old European Cup in 1982-83 knew no bounds. City also celebrated wildly.

Related: Ange Postecoglou’s Spurs project is a magnificent act of misdirection | Jonathan Liew

It had been a gripping evening, the subplots bubbling furiously, chief among them the one that talked to who the Spurs fans would be sup­porting. On one level, it was incre­dibly strange, given that they were shooting for a Champions League ­finish; on another, it was entirely logical because, well, it was Arsenal.

Guardiola had needed time to work things out because ­Postecoglou sprang surprises with his tactics, even if the emphasis on attack endured, on taking risks. Missing eight injured players, including three left-backs, Postecoglou had asked Micky van de Ven to shuffle over from central defence to fill the problem position. He also started with a new-look box midfield, with his attackers, Johnson and Son, high and wide.

The atmosphere in the Spurs seats was best described as subdued. ­Perhaps the home fans were simply ­trying to process what Postecoglou was doing. It was impossible to say that it did not work. Or perhaps it was something else.

City had their moments in the first half, even if some of them were nearly but not quite in terms of ­finding the killer pass. Foden unloaded a volley after a Pierre-Emile Højbjerg slice that Guglielmo Vicario saved ­brilliantly; Josko Gvardiol volleyed off target from a difficult angle. On the stroke of half-time, Radu Dragusin celebrated wildly after heading clear a goalbound Bernardo Silva shot.

City made errors on the ball, uncharacteristic ones that added to the weird vibe and Spurs had a few flickers before the interval, the biggest one coming early on when ­Rodrigo Bentancur extended Ederson.

City played with greater intensity after half-time, Kevin De Bruyne fully extending Vicario. Spurs almost led, Ederson denying Son at close quarters and then City did. Foden made it happen, winning the ball, getting away up the left and crossing. When it went all the way through, Silva ushered in De Bruyne and he fed ­Haaland. “Are you watching ­Arsenal?” the Spurs fans chanted.

The tension simmered. Bentancur raged when replaced by Kulusevski, kicking the seats as Ederson would do. It was Ortega who would make the difference.