LONDON, England, February 24 – Manchester City galvanised their grip on second place in the Premier League and trimmed Manchester United’s lead back to 12 points with a 2-0 victory at home to nearest rivals Chelsea on Sunday.
After Chelsea’s Frank Lampard had seen a penalty saved by England colleague Joe Hart, City prevailed through a pair of fine second-half goals from man-of-the-match Yaya Toure and substitute Carlos Tevez.
Although City’s chances of retaining their league title remain decidedly slender, they now have a seven-point advantage over Chelsea, who could slip to fourth if Tottenham Hotspur overcome West Ham United on Monday.
Both City manager Roberto Mancini and his Chelsea counterpart Rafael Benitez flooded their sides with midfielders at the Etihad Stadium, while Benitez opted to leave John Terry and Fernando Torres on the bench.
City deployed Sergio Aguero as a lone striker and although he had to plough a lone furrow, it was the hosts who dominated the first half.
Visiting goalkeeper Petr Cech had to tip a header from Matija Nastasic over the bar, while Gary Cahill did well to block a goal-bound volley from Pablo Zabaleta.
City handed a rare start to Jack Rodwell and the midfielder threatened twice shortly before half-time, extending Cech with first a 25-yard drive and then a header from the resulting corner.
Chelsea were gifted an opportunity to open the scoring early in the second half when Hart was adjudged to have fouled Demba Ba, but the England goalkeeper redeemed himself with an excellent save from Lampard’s spot-kick.
Aguero dinked a shot onto the roof of the net before City’s enterprise finally told in the 63rd minute.
Toure collected a pass from David Silva and deftly evaded the attentions of four visiting defenders before shaping a shot around Cech that nestled in the bottom-right corner.
Tevez settled the encounter in style in the 85th minute, collecting the ball 22 yards from goal and arrowing a shot into the top-left corner.
In the day’s other game, Newcastle edged relegation rivals Southampton 4-2 in a topsy-turvy game at St James’ Park that took Alan Pardew’s side six points clear of the bottom three.
In honour of their growing French contingent, Newcastle had dubbed the day ‘French Day’, handing out berets to their supporters and playing the French national anthem prior to kick-off.
However, it was a Frenchman in a red shirt who broke the deadlock, as midfielder Morgan Schneiderlin converted a Rickie Lambert knockdown to give Southampton a third-minute lead.
Newcastle’s reaction was swift and in the 32nd minute they went ahead thanks to two French players of their own.
Yoan Gouffran forced a save from Artur Boruc after darting into the box from the left and when the ball ran across goal, Moussa Sissoko sped in to touch it over the line.
The hosts’ momentum did not abate and in the 42nd minute they went ahead with a stunning goal, as Papiss Cisse cracked home a looping half-volley from 25 yards.
Newcastle lost captain Fabricio Coloccini to injury just before half-time and saw Southampton equalise five minutes into the second half when Lambert swept home a low cross from Adam Lallana.
However, Newcastle hit back once again and took the lead for the second time in the game when Yohan Cabaye converted a 67th-minute penalty awarded for a handball by Danny Fox.
The suspense in a taut game finally dissipated in the 79th minute, when an own goal by Jos Hooiveld put Newcastle 4-2 ahead and confirmed the hosts’ success.