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Kevin de Bruyne’s latest double act makes Man City the unco

On such days, Manchester City may be the unconvincing unstoppables. This was scarcely the most glorious demonstration of Pep Guardiola’s philosophy but churn or grind out four more wins and they will have a fourth consecutive Premier League title, regardless of what Arsenal do.

Weakened by injury and illness, put under pressure by Nottingham Forest, below par with their passing, City still prevailed. It may have been the result of champions. It is harder to claim it was the performance of them. But City had Kevin de Bruyne and Erling Haaland, one the best player on the pitch, the other a scoring substitute, and a little fortune.

And if Forest have a latest set of grievances, it should be with themselves. Condemned to defeat by their failings in both boxes, by their latest piece of disastrous defending at a set-piece and by an inability to take presentable chances, they could reflect on what might have been.

This was a reminder that their fate rests in their own hands, regardless of their agenda with officials and the Premier League. Theirs was the obdurate display of a team capable of securing safety, but undermined by their mistakes.

One figure from Forest’s past could enjoy it. The watching Alf Inge Haaland saw his son score 10 minutes after his introduction. Since his barren night against Real Madrid, the younger Haaland had been sidelined for two games, a spectator for an hour. But when De Bruyne supplied an inviting through pass, Haaland found the far corner of the net. Sadly for his father’s former club, Chris Wood showed no such precision.

Haaland’s 32nd goal of the season extended De Bruyne’s terrific April; after his uncharacteristic but brilliant header at Brighton and the brace at Crystal Palace brought up a century of City goals, he did a different double on the road. Two assists mean he is now only one behind Cesc Fabregas, the man in second in the division’s all-time list.

He could have drawn level with the Spaniard on the day – Julian Alvarez skied a shot when released by De Bruyne – and twice drew fine saves from Matz Sels himself but at a point when City looked to be missing the incision of the ill Phil Foden, he found a breakthrough.

It was the 23rd goal Forest have conceded from set-pieces this season. A familiar flaw was exploited, with City ruthless and Forest very culpable. They were temporarily down to 10 men, with Neco Williams off the pitch, but that was not explanation enough. When De Bruyne delivered a near-post corner, Murillo barely left the ground. Josko Gvardiol did, towering over him, glancing a header in. When City made the Croatian the second most expensive centre-back ever, it was more for his defensive qualities. But, after being reinvented as a left-back, Gvardiol has had a prolific April: after going a year without a goal, he has three in five games. The first two were long-range specials with his less-favoured foot. This, at least, was more conventional.

His goal came for a changing, and depleted, cast list. Minus the sick Foden and Ruben Dias, with Haaland beginning on the bench and John Stones staying there, City then lost Ederson at half time, after the goalkeeper had been hurt in a collision with Willy Boly, while Jack Grealish departed when Haaland came on, the winger then strapping his knee with ice.

And City had creaked. They looked fallible. But if the first law of football is that teams containing Rodri do not lose – and this became his 70th consecutive City appearance without defeat – Guardiola’s side stretched their sequence to 31 unbeaten games, penalty shootouts aside. In the Premier League, they have 15 wins from 19.

Haaland came off the bench to score his 32nd goal of the season (Reuters)

Yet it could have been very different. By the time Haaland was introduced, Forest might have been ahead. Wood twice miscued within the six-yard box, from Gonzalo Montiel’s cutback and Anthony Elanga’s low cross. After Ederson spilt a corner, Murillo improvised a backheeled flick that clipped the bar.

Nuno Espirito Santo’s ploy of switching to a back five had added solidity and provided attacking menace in the shape of the wing-backs, particularly the dynamic Ola Aina. Guardiola was forced to tinker with his team to try and restore control. With Alvarez ineffective in attack, however, the game-changing substitute was Haaland.

His goal reduced the rancour on a hostile occasion, even if the fury was rarely directed at City.

The home supporters failed to heed the watching Noel Gallagher’s mantra to not look back in anger. Forest have three games left to rescue themselves. It won’t be done with choruses about the Premier League or Gary Neville.