Manchester City goalkeeper Joe Hart and his team-mates are determined to give manager Manuel Pellegrini the best possible send-off with a trophy-laden end to his reign.
The club announced on Monday that the 62-year-old Chilean will make way for Pep Guardiola in the summer regardless of what happens during the remaining months of a campaign which could yet end with an unprecedented quadruple.
City maintained their challenge for the Premier League title with a hard-fought 1-0 victory at Sunderland on Tuesday and afterwards Hart signalled the squad’s intention to ensure Pellegrini goes out with a bang.
He told cityTV: “We are a professional group. We really enjoy playing under Manuel. He has been a top manager for us. His man-management has been something that I personally have really enjoyed, so we are going to look to give him the best send-off, what he deserves.
“The fans think the world of him, the players think the world of him. We have got however many games left in the league, we are in all competitions.
“Next season will take care of itself. Right now, we are living in the moment. Manuel Pellegrini is our manager and we are going to try to win as many competitions as we can with him.
“We know if we win our games, then we will win this league. We are three points behind Leicester with not a bad goal difference compared to them, so… Arsenal dropping points (in a goalless draw against Southampton) helps.
“There’s a long way to go, there’s all sorts left to happen. We are in a lot of competitions, we need people coming back fit, which is happening, so we are going to be in a good place.”
City now have a brief period of calm after a run of nine games in 32 days since the turn of the year before they host leaders Leicester on Saturday in a fixture which could see them leapfrog Claudio Ranieri’s men.
To do so, they will have to find a way to keep man of the moment Jamie Vardy quiet after he underlined his blistering run of form with a stunning strike in the Foxes’ 2-0 victory over Liverpool on Tuesday evening.
England team-mate Hart said: “He’s a top player and he’s really on top of his game at the moment, but we have got the same and we’ll look forward to the challenge.
“He’s doing well, but we are going to look to stop him.”
City’s win at the Stadium of Light in some ways proved to be a story of two strikers – one who continued his own fine run of form with a beautifully taken winner, and another who was denied by a fine save.
Sergio Aguero’s 16th-minute strike – his 17th goal of the season and eighth in as many games – ultimately won the day, but Hart’s 44th-minute stop from Jermain Defoe, which was followed by further saves from Billy Jones and Wahbi Khazri, ensured the points went back across the Pennines.
The keeper, who was repeatedly booed by the home fans after charging upfield to confront referee Stuart Attwell over a Defoe challenge on defender Martin Demichelis, said: “He’s really sharp, Jermain Defoe, he’s a killer.
“He’s always going to get chances, so I had to be aware that as well as the centre-halves played, he was always going to get a chance and I had to make sure I stepped up.”
Asked about Aguero’s contribution, Hart replied: “He’s a phenomenal player. The same as I said about Defoe, he’s a killer. He got one chance and he stuck it in the corner and won us the game.”