Queens Park Rangers took a well-earned point after holding Premier League champions Manchester City to a 0-0 draw at Loftus Road.
After weathering a turbulent storm of 71 per cent City possession in the first half, Harry Redknapp's men turned their resilient defensive performance into a more respectable all-round display and kept a clean sheet in the process.
The West London club remain at the foot of the table and are four points from safety, though that would become a six-point gap should Reading win their game in hand on those around them at the bottom.
Roberto Mancini's side - soon to be without Mario Balotelli, who undergoes a medical at AC Milan on Wednesday - find themselves four points behind rivals and league leaders Manchester United, who have now played a game less.
The home side, realising the lion’s share of possession would be out of reach against the Premier League title-holders, set up to patiently soak up the pressure and deal with any set pieces coming their way.
New signing Loic Remy and playmaker Adel Taarabt sat poised to pounce on any chances on the counter, but with the exception of the Moroccan’s 39th-minute effort - which needed a parry from Joe Hart - the City back line were mostly untroubled early on.
Meanwhile, stand-in skipper Pablo Zabaleta – goalscoring hero when City progressed to the FA Cup fifth round at the expense of Stoke on Saturday – rattled the crossbar with an unmarked header in the away side’s best first-half chance.
Further close calls came from distance courtesy of Samir Nasri and makeshift centre-back Javi Garcia, while Sergio Aguero had the ball in the Rangers net halfway through the first 45 in an effort chalked off by the offside flag.
Gareth Barry mugged Stephane Mbia for possession three minutes ahead of the interval and played a one-two with Carlos Tevez before forcing a fine stop from Julio Cesar with a first-time 20-yard drive.
Redknapp’s decision to place two goalkeepers on his substitute’s bench appeared to be a sledgehammer-subtle way of underscoring his desire to bring in new recruits before the January 31st transfer deadline. His team’s improved second half display, however, meant he did not need any of them until the closing moments of the match.
Mancini, on the other hand, did not wait until the hour mark before introducing Edin Dzeko in the hopes that his ‘closer’ could once again seal valuable points from the bench.
City struggled to dominate as much as they had in the second, however, their multi-million strike force appearing unclear as to their exact roles after the break, and the hosts enjoying more possession and chances of their own than ever before.
The champions stepped up their pursuit of all three points in the closing stages, and only a superb point blank stop from Cesar denied David Silva from six yards after a low cross in from Dzeko with seven minutes left.
There were shouts for a penalty moments later when it appeared old City boy Nedum Onuoha brought down substitute Scott Sinclair, but Phil Dowd’s assertion that it was a ball-winning challenge was proven correct by subsequent replays.
And Taarabt almost bagged a dramatic winner at the other end on the counter as he raced upfield to support Mbia before skipping past two defenders and seeing his strike deflected behind.
MAN OF THE MATCH
Julio Cesar - Queens Park Rangers: While most of the home players can be commended for their defensive work, the Rangers goalkeeper once again earns man of the match honours with a spotless display between the sticks.
QPR: Cesar 9; Onuoha 7, Nelsen 8, Hill 8, Traore 7; Mbia 6, Derry 7; Fabio 8, Granero 4, Taarabt 8; Remy 7. Subs: Park n/a, Zamora n/a, Faurlin n/a.
MAN CITY: Hart 8, Zabaleta 7, Garcia 7, Lescott 8, Clichy 7, Milner 7, Barry 6, Nasri 5, Aguero 7, Silva 7, Tevez 7. Subs: Rodwell 5, Sinclair n/a, Dzeko 6.
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