Manchester City title challenge falters with draw at QPR

With Mario Balotelli gone, City could not get past Julio Cesar. Aston Villa lose yet again

LAST UPDATED AT 11:25 ON Wed 30 Jan 2013

QPR 0 Manchester City 0. Mario Balotelli has departed to AC Milan and Manchester City's hopes of retaining the league title may have left with him, after a night on which the club's three remaining strikers failed to find a way past Julio Cesar, goalkeeper of the Premier League's bottom side, QPR.

It was the sort of evening when a moment of Mario magic might have decided the outcome, but Carlos Tevez, Sergio Aguero and Edin Dzeko were unable to break the deadlock. The goalless draw now gives league leaders Manchester United the opportunity to re-establish a seven-point gap at the top of the table if they can overcome Southampton tonight.

The result also hands QPR an unexpected point in their battle against relegation. Manager Harry Redknapp described the draw as a bonus, noting that City usually "rip teams to pieces, home or away".

The fact that City were unable to inflict more misery on the Londoners was largely down to Cesar, "who produced a chain of wonderful stops and was protected superbly by centre-halves Ryan Nelsen and Clint Hill and midfielder Shaun Derry", according to the Daily Mail.

Even so, Cesar "was not as busy as he should have been, given the gulf in class between the two teams", said The Times.

City manager Roberto Mancini may have left Loftus Road shaking his head, but his position is not as grave as that of Paul Lambert who saw his Aston Villa team slip into the bottom three after a home defeat against Newcastle. Villa, who lost in the Capital One Cup to Bradford and were knocked out of the FA Cup by Millwall last week, are without a league win in seven games with only two points out of a possible 21.

Playing fellow strugglers Newcastle, Villa produced what the BBC called a "dreadful first-half performance" to hand the Magpies the initiative. Goals from Yohan Cabaye and Papiss Cissé were enough to give the visitors the win, despite a second-half penalty from Christian Benteke. The result plunges Villa into serious trouble but sends Newcastle four points clear of the drop zone.

Wigan's 2-2 draw with Stoke was enough to lift them out of the bottom three at the expense of Villa. Stoke took a 2-0 lead with goals either side of half-time for Ryan Shawcross and Peter Crouch, but James McArthur and Franco Di Santo hauled Wigan back into the game.

In Tuesday night's other match, Sunderland drew 0-0 with Swansea. · 

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