Frank Lampard again underlined his value to Manchester City with the only goal in their 1-0 Barclays Premier League win at bottom club Leicester City.
The veteran former England and Chelsea midfielder has chipped in with vital contributions over the course of his loan from affiliated Major League Soccer outfit New York City FC, and manager Manuel Pellegrini this week stated his wish to keep Lampard beyond the scheduled end of his temporary spell at the end of the month.
Handed a start at the King Power Stadium, Lampard responded in the 40th minute with his sixth Manchester City goal and the 175th of his Barclays Premier League career, moving level with Thierry Henry in fourth place on the all-time list.
The title holders, who were forced to hand a maiden senior start to 18-year-old Jose Angel Pozo after Edin Dzeko suffered a calf injury during the warm-up, ground out an important result to record a seventh consecutive victory in all competitions. They remain three points behind leaders Chelsea.
Leicester, who drew with Arsenal and beat Manchester United on their own ground earlier in the season, matched their opponents for long periods but a spirited late was not enough to find an equaliser.
Defeat sees them slip to to a ninth loss in an 11-match winless run.
Ben Hamer replaced Kasper Schmeichel, his fellow goalkeeper sidelined by a broken metatarsal, as one of four changes to the Leicester line-up.
Manchester City welcomed back captain Vincent Kompany and playmaker David Silva from respective hamstring and knee injuries, but Dzeko's injury was a setback. Worryingly for Pellegrini ahead of the congested Christmas schedule, Kompany also suffered a recurrence of his problem with 14 minutes to play and was forced off the field.
Leicester broke confidently in the third minute as Jamie Vardy sprinted away from Bacary Sagna and visiting midfielder Fernando made a vital interception with Jeffrey Schlupp poised to convert.
Vardy led the charge for Nigel Pearson's team in the opening stages, running at the Manchester City defence in the 12th minute before Eliaquim Mangala did enough to force his shot behind.
The champions' anticipated lack of presence up front meant Leicester were able to launch regular attacks, and goalkeeper Joe Hart was grasping at thin air when Esteban Cambiasso's curling free-kick flew narrowly wide.
Hamer made an excellent 32nd-minute save to keep Yaya Toure's shot out of the bottom corner but he could do nothing five minutes before the break as Lampard deftly turned a shot home from close range, following fine work by Samir Nasri on the left of the Leicester box.
Pellegrini's men absorbed further pressure after the break, before Toure's pass released Nasri, whose 56th-minute cross was sent wide at the near post by Silva.
Referee Jon Moss was unmoved by Leicester penalty claims when Mangala bundled into Vardy at the near post but the earlier rhythm of Leicester's attacks was absent by the time Pearson sent on top scorer Leonardo Ulloa .
The former Brighton striker swivelled to shoot in the 80th minute, Kompany's replacement Martin Demichelis deflecting the effort wide with Hart wrong-footed, and the same player hooked a bouncing ball over in stoppage time as Manchester City hung on for victory.
Leicester manager Nigel Pearson: "We were a bit more than in it. It's another difficult day for us. They showed why they are champions, scored a goal out of nothing and didn't really create anything else.
“From our end we played pretty well and were unlucky to come away with nothing again. We are on the receiving end of another defeat and I don't think we deserved to be but that's how it is. There's no point me being anything other than rational about it. I think the players played well.”
Manchester City manager Manuel Pellegrini: "I'm very happy because today was a very difficult game. It was important to win 1-0 and to defend the way we did. We don't have strikers. I'm very happy with the whole week and especially with this game.
"The more injuries the more difficult it is to make a starting XI. With Edin Dzeko, it's very unlucky. We must see. Maybe we are going to be without the three strikers for at least one month."
|20 Dec 2014||v West Ham (A)|
|26 Dec 2014||v Spurs (H)|
|28 Dec 2014||v Hull (A)|
|01 Jan 2015||v Liverpool (A)|
|10 Jan 2015||v Aston Villa (H)|
|17 Jan 2015||v Stoke (H)|