STOKE CITY 1, MAN CITY 4
Manchester City’s joy at banishing their Stoke City hoodoo was tempered by Chelsea’s late winner against Everton.
Just when City, emphatic victors at the Britannia Stadium, looked set to cut Chelsea’s lead at the top of the Barclays Premier League to five points, came news of Willian’s late winner against Everton at Stamford Bridge.
Detracting from that dampener, City produced an impressive second-half display to register their first win in six games. It was also their first victory at Stoke since 1999, a sequence of six fruitless visits, and no mean feat bearing in mind form-team Potters had lost only one of their previous nine games.
City, admittedly, rode their luck in the opening period in which they could have been reduced to 10 men after James Milner’s handball to stop a goalbound shot.
But it was an imperious attacking display as Sergio Aguero scored twice while Milner and Samir Nasri also found the net.
And it was a satisfying night for City manager Manuel Pellegrini who was unpeturbed by the events at Stanford Bridge.
“We are not thinking about Chelsea, it is about our team and it was a solid performance,” he declared.
“The difference today was the way we finished which is very important. In the first half we played well, scored once and had other chances.
“In the second half we continued to press and did not let them play the way they like to as well as scoring three goals.
“Stoke are a very difficult team to play against. In the three games since I have been in charge, we had only scored one goal so to score four away from home was very important for the team.”
Stoke manager Mark Hughes was pleased with his side’s first-half display saying they were in the ascendancy and ought to have been awarded a clear penalty.
But in the second period, he admitted Stoke could not live with their opponents declaring: “Credit to City who came out a lot sharper and we weren’t quite good enough.
“It will not knock our confidence as we have been on a good run and it was that for 45 minutes we needed to be better.”
City made three changes from the side which kicked off on Saturday when they were held at home by lowly Hull City.
Eliaquim Mangala and Aleksandar Kolarov were recalled in defence while James Milner was restored to midfield as Martin Demichelis, Gael Clichy and Edin Dzeko stood down.
Stoke were again without the injured Ryan Shawcross while Marc Wilson, Stephen Ireland and Jonathan Walters, all hurt in Sunday’s draw at Newcastle, were all missing as Geoff Cameron, Marko Arnautovic and Peter Crouch won call ups.
There was a lively start as Aguero and Fernandinho contrived to miss a glorious chance to give City the lead.
Stoke then went close when Victor Moses’ long-range shot was spilled by Joe Hart but luckily the ball rolled behind for a corner when it could easily have been an own goal.
And from the dead ball, Peter Crouch’s goalbound headed struck the arm of Milner, something referee Lee Mason missed as the home side ought to have been awarded a penalty and the City player dismissed.
City had another massive let off after 20 minutes when Hart could not hold a shot from Mame Diouf and Crouch, following up, fired into the roof of the net only for the assistant referee to flag for offside.
Pellegrini’s side was living dangerously as Hart then parried a shot from Steven Nzonzi only for the ricochet to fly to Moses whose drive flew wide.
It was against the run of play that City stole ahead in the 33rd minute following a desperate defensive punt downfield following another home attack. Aguero wriggled free of Marc Muniesa and broke before firing home from the right of the box into the far corner.
It was the Argentine’s 20th goal of the season, but the first since December 3rd, a run of six games in a spell punctuated by injury.
Stoke deservedly equalised five minutes later when Arnautovic delivered a delicious cross from the right and Crouch stooped at the far post to head home from six yards, his seventh goal of the season.
There was a controversial end to the opening period when Aguero had a goal ruled out for handball, but only after referee Mason had consulted his assistant at the insistence of the Stoke players.
City regained the lead eight minutes after the restart when Nasri crossed from the right and Milner glanced a header low to the right of keeper Asmir Begovic. And to add insult to injury for Stoke, the scorer was the player they claimed ought not to have been on the field.
They sealed victory with 20 minutes left after adding a third, an Aguero penalty after David Silva was fouled by Cameron as he wriggled along the byline towards goal.
And it got even better for City who added a fourth goal, a fabulous solo effort from Nasri following a jinking run from deep, only his second of the season and first in the Premier League.
It may have been an even wider margin of victory but for Begovic beating out efforts from both Fernandino and substitute Dzeko.