Manchester City’s Champions League campaign reached crisis point as they were beaten by CSKA Moscow on a desperate night at Etihad Stadium.
Not only did they lose to two first-half goals from Seydou Doumbia, they also saw midfielders Fernandinho and Yaya Toure sent off after the break and ruled out of their next home game against Bayern Munich.
Toure had equalised Doumbia’s first goal but that was a rare high spot in a dismal performance by Manuel Pellegrini’s side, who simply cannot solve the Champions League puzzle.
City now have no wins and only two points from four group games, and must beat Bayern and win at Roma to stand any chance of progression.
And on the evidence produced so far, it is hard to see a team that mysteriously looks so ill-at-ease in this tournament turning their performances around to produce the results to qualify for the knock-out stages.
City’s fans were furious with Greek referee Tasos Sidiropolous at the final whistle, not only for the two red cards but also for a case of mistaken identity that spared CSKA’s Pontus Wernbloom a dismissal.
The bottom line, however, was that this was a shocking performance from the Premier League champions, especially in defence in the first half when they conceded the goals that condemned them to another defeat.
CSKA were without midfield man Zoran Tosic because of problems with his visa, but it was City bogeyman Doumbia who did the damage as he now has five goals against them in four Champions League games.
It was exactly a year ago, on Bonfire Night 2013, that Alvaro Negredo’s hat-trick gave City a 5-2 win here against CSKA, but this was a far cry from that as this performance summed up all the struggles they have had in this tournament.
City face a huge task against all odds to escape this group because nothing they have offered up in the Champions League suggests they will see off Bayern and Roma.
It will also leave Pellegrini facing awkward questions because their efforts this season suggest they have gone backwards in their attempt to challenge Europe’s elite.
City knew victory was the minimum requirement to maintain their push for progress – but once again they suffered a self-inflicted wound inside two minutes.
Gael Clichy was perhaps harshly punished for handball but there was no excuse for Toure’s slack marking from the free-kick that allowed Doumbia to arrive unattended and head powerfully past Joe Hart.
Toure quickly made amends by scoring the equaliser with a perfectly clipped free-kick from the edge of the area, but this did nothing to ease City’s defensive nerves in a performance that occasionally descended into shambles.
Doumbia should have put CSKA back in front when he raced through but guided his shot inches wide, much to the relief of City and their increasingly anxious supporters.
He did not pass up his next opportunity, however, when Clichy’s horribly sliced clearance allowed Bebras Nacho to play in Doumbia, who this time showed more composure to score easily.
Pellegrini needed to take action after such a dismal first half and his response was to send on Samir Nasri and Fernandinho – followed by Edin Dzeko just after the hour when there was no upturn in their fortunes.
Just when City thought their night could not descend any further, Fernandinho was red-carded for picking up two rapid yellow cards, while referee Sidiropolous then did CSKA a favour, booking Sergei Ignashevich when the card should have gone to Wernbloom, who would then have been sent off.
There was another red card on the way but it came for Toure, who deserved to be dismissed for a reckless, arms raised challenge on Roman Eremenko.
To cap a frustrating night, City striker Sergio Aguero had two penalty appeals turned down late on as CSKA held out.