LONDON • Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola highlighted Raheem Sterling's growing self-belief after his remarkable run of late goals continued with a stoppage-time winner in the 2-1 victory over Southampton on Wednesday.
City's quest for a club-record 12th successive league victory seemed to be over when Oriel Romeu's 75th-minute equaliser for the Saints cancelled out Kevin de Bruyne's goal early in the second half at the Etihad Stadium.
But in the sixth minute of added time, Sterling curled a shot into the top right-hand corner, sparking delirium among City's fans.
Their last three wins have come after late strikes from the 22-year-old, who scored in the 88th minute against Feyenoord (1-0) last week, in the 84th against Huddersfield (2-1) before his winner in the dying seconds against Southampton.
"Raheem is a match-winner, it was a fantastic goal, I am so happy for him," Guardiola said of the former Liverpool forward, who never managed more than 11 goals in a single season before this campaign.
"He is making steps. Before he was a little bit more shy and he did not believe, but now he can do that.
"I think his team-mates give him the confidence and say, 'We trust in you', but then you have to have the personality to do what he did in the last minute."
Points Man City have from their first 14 league games this term - the joint-best return at this stage of a top-flight season.
Sterling's transformation under Guardiola this season has been special.
Once labelled as a player who sparkles only intermittently, not only has he been scoring more goals than before but they are also important ones.
The England international has 13 goals in all competitions this season - eight in the final 10 minutes.
City midfielder Ilkay Gundogan hailed Sterling as "unbelievable", saying: "The way he scored was just incredible, especially in the last seconds of the game.
"It is not easy to do that and he is having an unbelievable season.
"He was definitely the main man out there and we are so happy to have him."
The unbridled celebrations after Sterling's stoppage-time winner included Benjamin Mendy hobbling down the touchline with his City team-mates - just two months after rupturing the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee.
The celebrations continued in the home dressing room afterwards, with players posting images of the scenes on social media.
With the Manchester derby at Old Trafford looming a week on Sunday, restoring their lead over United to eight points was hugely important to City.
"What impresses the most is the heart with which they play," added Guardiola. "What happened in the locker room was amazing."
But the 46-year-old may get into trouble with the Football Association if referee Paul Tierney reports his dash onto the field following the winner.
"I apologised to the referee," said the Spaniard. "He said, 'You can't go there' and I said 'I know'. I said, 'I apologise', I couldn't control it."
Southampton manager Mauricio Pellegrino was unimpressed by the amount of time added at the end of the match, although he was restrained in his complaint.
"I didn't see too many actions to delay the game," he said.
"But it's part of the decision of the referee, I can't do anything about that."
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS