LONDON • Pep Guardiola's 100th Premier League game had looked to be a mere formality after Sergio Aguero's opener against Newcastle after only 24 seconds - the quickest Premier League goal this season.
However, his players failed to build on their lightning start as Manchester City slumped to a shock 2-1 loss at St James' Park on Tuesday to put their title defence in jeopardy.
Although Guardiola, who is now facing the hardest challenge of his stewardship, insisted post-game the title race was not over as "there are still many games and anything can happen", there seemed to be a hint of resignation with leaders Liverpool in the box seat.
He said: "We had a chance today to reduce the lead. Tomorrow is a game for our opponents. When you are behind, you have to win games and we couldn't do that."
Denying that the English champions had underestimated Newcastle, he added: "We'd never do that and that's the reason why we're still in four competitions. That's why we recorded 100 points last season.
"It's just sometimes, we don't play at the level we want to play and that can happen, that's something I understand completely."
But after admitting "it was not our best night" with their flat and careless display on Tyneside, talk of an unprecedented quadruple will be on the back-burner for now .
The Spaniard said: "I know the challenge is big, being in all competitions is what it is. If you want to go up as a club, you have to accept that challenge. I prefer to be in that position."
THERE IS STILL TIME
A lead of seven points is a lot but we're not in April or May. There are a lot of tough games to play against sides trying to stay in this division, or playing to get into the Europa League or the Champions League.
PEP GUARDIOLA, Man City manager, keeping his chin up despite expecting Liverpool to beat Leicester last night.
It must have come as a real surprise to him after a sluggish City conceded for the first time since Roberto Firmino netted on Jan 3. It was a series of 30 unanswered strikes before Salomon Rondon's and Matt Ritchie's spot kick on Tuesday.
Guardiola added: "We didn't make a good performance. We didn't take the rhythm of the game, it was slow and we weren't aggressive enough.
"The game was not good. We did not defend the second ball well, we have to improve."
Conceding "next week will be tough" - City have to play Arsenal, Everton and Chelsea in seven days - he challenged his side to rise to the occasion as there were "a lot of titles and points to play for".
The 48-year-old also attempted to put a spin on the upset and their tricky run of upcoming fixtures as they "were still in January", and so, there could be plenty more twists and turns in Liverpool's bid to end a 29-year wait to win the league.
He said: "There's a lot of time but of course, when you're behind the leaders, you don't want to drop points and every game is one less.
"A lead of seven points is a lot but we're not in April or May. There are a lot of tough games to play against sides trying to stay in this division, or playing to get into the Europa League or the Champions League.
"In our case, we will do our best to be there and not to give up."
With City's unremitting pressing and cutting interplay curiously absent against Rafa Benitez's men, it meant he also missed out on an outright record of achieving most wins in the league era by any manager in their first 100 games.
Instead, he will now share that landmark with his old rival and former Manchester United boss Jose Mourinho, who won 73 of his first 100 games with Chelsea.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS