LONDON (Reuters) – Manuel Pellegrini blamed injuries and a hectic fixture schedule for Manchester City’s feeble 2-0 defeat at Stoke City but goalkeeper Joe Hart called it straight when he said their performance had been unacceptable.
Premier League leaders City were blown away inside the opening 15 minutes at the Britannia Stadium with Marko Arnautovic scoring twice for the rampant hosts and they barely threatened Stoke’s goal thereafter.
While key players such as Yaya Toure, Sergio Aguero and Vincent Kompany were missing City still boasted an attacking of Raheem Sterling, Wilfried Bony, David Silva and Kevin de Bruyne, a quartet costing close to 150 million pounds ($226.65 million).
“It was a disappointing start and we could not recover from it,” England keeper Hart said.
“We didn’t play well today. A few of the lads are feeling it from the games we are playing but that is not an excuse.
“We need to put in at least a 7/10 performance every game and we are not doing that.
“We can’t accept how we played today.”
Manager Pellegrini was less forthcoming after a dismal display.
“We had a lack of reaction, too many games for the same players,” the Chilean told the BBC. “We are the only team playing in all the competitions and playing with 13 players in all competitions.”
City, who beat Hull City in the League Cup quarter-finals in midweek, have not won away in the Premier since September.
While City toiled in the difficult conditions, Stoke played with attacking relish, the likes of Swiss playmaker Xherdan Shaqiri and Bojan Krkic leading the visitors a merry dance.
Shaqiri created both goals for Arnautovic, who was denied a first-half hat-trick by the woodwork, and missed a sitter in the second before being substituted.
It was a sweet victory for Stoke manager Mark Hughes who was sacked by Man City six years ago.
“We looked at all of Manchester City’s previous games and we look for flaws we can exploit,” Hughes, whose side are up to ninth after a slow start to the season, said.
“We know we can ask questions of the best and we were able to do that this afternoon. We deserved a fantastic result.
“It was a great performance by the guys. Each and every one of them put in a high level performance and a consequence of that we were able to win against the team top of the pile.”
($1 = 0.6618 pounds)
(Reporting by Martyn Herman, editing by Ed Osmond)