Manchester City beat Southampton 4-1 to keep their title hopes very much alive, although the win was overshadowed by a serious injury for Southampton’s Jay Rodriguez.
The England striker came into Saturday’s contest having scored five goals in his previous four outings to boost his hopes of making Roy Hodgson's FIFA World Cup squad, but a nasty-looking knee injury, sustained midway through the first half at the Etihad Stadium, looks set to keep him out of the tournament.
Yaya Toure gave the hosts the lead after just three minutes from the penalty spot after Jose Fonte's lazy trailing leg felled Edin Dzeko in the area. A similar incident involving Jack Cork and Pablo Zabaleta allowed Rickie Lambert to equalise from the spot, but City regained their advantage late in the first half as Samir Nasri stroked home David Silva's exceptional pass.
Manuel Pellegrini's side enjoyed a two-goal cushion at the break through Dzeko, making his 150th City appearance and hailed as a "transformed" player under the Chilean by director of football Txiki Begiristain in the week. Second-half substitute Stevan Jovetic rounded off the result with just his second Barclays Premier League goal 10 minutes from time.
The win keeps pressure on title rivals Chelsea and Liverpool, with Pellegrini taking his side to Anfield next week for a clash that could decide the destination of the trophy.
City made a barnstorming start, although they had Fonte's trip on Dzeko after just two minutes to thank as Toure opened the scoring from the spot, sending Paulo Gazzaniga, who was playing in place of the injured Artur Boruc, the wrong way.
Nasri wasted a chance to double the advantage two minutes later, and the visitors eventually settled into the game. Their momentum was checked when Rodriguez was forced off looking in distress after appearing to twist his right knee in an awkward landing as Hodgson looked on concerned from the stands.
Despite that setback, Zabaleta brought down Cork to give Lambert the chance to equalise from 12 yards and the striker maintained his 100 per cent record from the spot for the Saints.
Southampton had most of the play after their equaliser but were caught with a sucker-punch in the 45th minute as Nasri turned home from Silva's pass. The third came as Aleksandar Kolarov’s cross evaded Gazzaniga to allow Dzeko his 21st goal of the season.
The hosts controlled much of the second half and had several chances to extend their lead further in the period's opening 20 minutes. Toure saw shouts for the game's third penalty waved away, Dzeko skewed wide after seeing his initial effort saved and Gazzaniga kept out Nasri.
The fourth finally came late on as Jesus Navas gave Jovetic a tap-in to send City second, a point behind Liverpool and one point ahead of Chelsea, who have played a match more, before they go into action this weekend. A fourth defeat in Southampton's last five away trips hinders their late run for the top six as they lie eighth, six points behind Manchester United.
Manchester City manager Manuel Pellegrini: “Now we have an important game against Liverpool, they have to play tomorrow [against West Ham] so we'll see what happens. "There's a lot of time to prepare so it's an important game but I don't think that game will finish the Premier League. After that we play six games more and Liverpool has to play four."
"Southampton played very well in the first half with possession of the ball because there was a lot of distance between our lines so it was very difficult for us to keep possession. When we had the possession we lost it easily so I think we really didn't play very well in the first half, but we scored three goals and (had) a few other clear chances to score.
"I don't remember Joe Hart making any important saves or some dangers near our goal so they had possession, [but] they didn't have chances to score. And in the second half we played perfect, we scored one goal but we had five clear chances, we recovered the ball, we had possession."
Southampton manager Mauricio Pochettino: "I don't know how Jay Rodriguez is. It's not looking good but we'll be assessing it in Southampton.
"Today we played with young players and we want to keep on growing as a team. The only positive out of the match, though, is that we were superior up to the point of the first goal."
|13 Apr 2014||v Liverpool (A)|
|16 Apr 2014||v Sunderland (H)|
|21 Apr 2014||v West Brom (H)|
|27 Apr 2014||v Crystal Palace (A)|
|03 May 2014||v Everton (A)|
|07 May 2014||v Aston Villa (H)|