LONDON: Pep Guardiola's 100th Premier League game in charge of Manchester City had done everything to see Newcastle United as the newest record-breaking milestone in its triumphant English rule within the first half-minute.
Instead, it turned into the mystifying ordeal of a wholly unexpected 2-1 defeat at St James & # 39; Park, forcing the brilliant Spanish coach to face the toughest challenge of his City stewardship as he sees their title slip away .
The goal of Sergio Aguero in 24 seconds was the fastest in a Premier League match this season, but was only the prelude to one of the slowest displays in the city when Newcastle retaliated to win with a second half of Salomon Rondon and a Matt Ritchie penalty.
It still left City four points behind Liverpool at the top of the table, with Juergen Klopp's pacemakers now having the chance to take the lead to an intimidating seven when they organize Leicester City on Wednesday.
It made Guardiola sound a bit resigned, thinking about how his men might close that shortage on a Liverpool side that only lost once in the season this season – against City at the beginning of the month.
"We had an opportunity today to narrow down the lead. Tomorrow is a match for our opponent (Liverpool). If you're behind, you have to win games and we can not do that," he said.
The city has been touted this season as the potential winner of four trophies – not Guardiola himself, it should be said – but this loss made such a great chat.
"I know the challenge is great, it's what it is in all competitions," Guardiola said. "If you want to start as a club, you have to accept that challenge, I prefer to be in that position."
The real shock for him, however, should come in seeing a side that had stormed its way through January – Aguero's was their 30th unanswered target in their New Year rampage – suddenly looked flat and, frankly, rather messy.
"It was not our best night, we did not do a good job," he shrugged.
"We did not take the rhythm of the game, it was slow and we were not aggressive enough … The game was not good, we did not defend the second ball well, we have to improve."
For once, the unrelenting interplay and the combination of City was remarkably absent and meant that Guardiola missed an absolute record of gaining the most victories in the Premier League era by every manager in their first 100 games.
It would have been his 74th victory – but instead he will now share that milestone with his old rival, Jose Mourinho, who won 73 of his first 100 with Chelsea while he won the title in consecutive years.
That is an achievement that, at the moment, seems to be increasingly out of reach for the man who has long since appropriated Mourinho as the "Special One" of the Premier League.