Manchester City needed a second-half penalty from striker Erling Haaland to break the resistance of a dogged Crystal Palace and secure a 1-0 win at Selhurst Park in the Premier League on Saturday.
The win moved City to 61 points after 27 games, two behind leaders Arsenal, who play Fulham on Sunday, and 12 ahead of third-placed Manchester United.
The visitors made a swift start, with midfielder Rodri clipping a powerful third-minute volley straight at keeper Vicente Guaita and Jack Grealish pulling a shot just wide, but with the home side packing their defence, City had a hard time breaking them down.
In a sign of frustration, Haaland smashed a shot from a very tight angle goalwards just before the half-hour mark and then blasted the rebound wide as his side dominated possession.
City were presented with an excellent chance early in the second half when Jack Grealish was fouled on the edge of the box, but Guaita pulled off a tremendous diving save to keep out Phil Foden’s free kick.
City went even closer on the hour mark when substitute Julian Alvarez turned superbly on the edge of the box as he received the ball from Bernardo Silva, but he blasted his shot over the bar with the goal at his mercy.
With Palace occasionally stringing six defenders across the back and using their forwards to clog the middle, Haaland was repeatedly crowded out and City had to constantly recycle the ball as they sought space in which to play.
City’s breakthrough finally came when captain Ilkay Gundogan was upended in the box following a clumsy late challenge by Michael Olise.
Undeterred by his long spells without the ball, Haaland stepped up and smashed home the spot kick low to the keeper’s left in the 78th minute for his 28th league goal of the season and his 34th in all competitions.
With Palace failing to register a shot on target for the third Premier League game in a row, an animated Haaland went to celebrate with the travelling fans at the final whistle after a frustrating evening finally came good.
“It’s OK, we have to play in different ways. People adapt to us as a team and how we play because in the last five years it’s been four Premier Leagues (titles),” Haaland told Sky Sports.
“What can I do? I cannot do anything about what they do, we just have to try to do our best and try to perform,” he added.
After an electrifying start to the season the 22-year-old Norwegian has had to work harder to get on the end of chances as teams do a better job of closing him down, but he is relishing the challenge.
“I enjoy it, this is England, this is what I have watched my whole life. I enjoy every single second being in it. It’s good to be in the middle of it,” he said.