By Ian Chadband
REUTERS - Manchester City will need the crazy Premier League season to get barmier still if they are now to regain their title following a potentially calamitous goalless draw against struggling Norwich City at Carrow Road on Saturday.
That was the dispirited verdict of City's England goalkeeper Joe Hart, who offered a damning verdict on the insipid performance which now leaves the 2014 champions nine points behind leaders Leicester City in fourth place with nine matches left.
In a truncated three-match League programme on Saturday, Manuel Pellegrini's side had a golden opportunity to eat into their deficit.
While Bournemouth celebrated their first back-to-back home wins in the top flight, with a thrilling 3-2 win over Swansea City, and a first-half Graziano Pelle double gave Southampton a 2-1 win at Stoke City, the main focus of attention was on City's disappointing display in the early kickoff at Norwich.
Demonstrating more evidence of their maddening inconsistency, their failure to break down a well-organised Norwich defence had the ever-honest Hart telling the BBC: "We are going to need a crazy season to get even more crazy -- but we will keep going... We weren't good enough."
Leicester have their own chance to extend their lead with a home match against Newcastle United on Monday in Rafa Benitez's first game in charge of the Magpies while second-placed Tottenham Hotspur could move seven points clear of Manchester City if they win at Aston Villa on Sunday.
Despite largely dominating, Sergio Aguero's first-half snapshot, well saved by John Ruddy at full stretch, proved the closest City came to scoring as they stretched their recent unconvincing record to just two wins in seven games.
Pellegrini, though, was not about to concede the title just yet, with City now a point behind third-placed Arsenal and four points adrift of Spurs.
"Every time that you drop points it is harder but you must continue thinking in a positive way. We must always try to win the title while we mathematically can," he said.
It could have been even worse for City though with Norwich coming closest to breaking the stalemate with on-loan Patrick Bamford, making his first start for the club, hammering a brilliant half-volley against the crossbar just before halftime.
Norwich were delighted with the point that, even if it did not quite haul them out of the bottom three -- they still lie 18th on 25 points, the same as Sunderland -- leaves them in good heart to face both 19th-placed Newcastle and Sunderland in their next two home matches.
Bournemouth can now almost taste the prospect of a second season of Premier League football after Steve Cook's 78th-minute looping header sealed their victory and left them in 13th place on 38 points.
For the last four seasons, 37 points has been enough for teams to avoid relegation but Bournemouth manager Eddie Howe was taking nothing for granted.
"No, we still feel we've got more work to do but we're moving in the right direction," Howe told the BBC when asked if he felt Bournemouth were safe. "Today was an excellent performance."
Twice, Bournemouth had led before sealing the points. Max Gradel had put them ahead in the first half only for Modou Barrow to curl in his first goal for the visitors within two minutes.
Josh King drove the Cherries back into the lead after the break before Gylfi Sigurdsson equalised again with his seventh goal in 11 matches.
(Reporting by Ian Chadband, editing by Pritha Sarkar)