Sergio Aguero scored twice as Manchester City ended a run of three successive Premier League defeats with a 4-0 demolition of bottom club Aston Villa at Eastlands on Saturday.
Manuel Pellegrini’s side made heavy weather of the opening 45 minutes, but struck twice early in the second half to maintain their place in the top four and keep alive their slender hopes of winning the title.
Yaya Toure side-footed in the opener before Aguero added a second as an attempted clearance by former City defender Micah Richards rebounded in off him.
Aguero made it three with a sublime finish, but then hit the post with a penalty after Raheem Sterling tapped in a fourth.
Villa are now nine points from safety after a fourth successive defeat and appear certain to play in the second tier next season for the first time since 1988.
Pellegrini switched from 4-2-3-1 to a 4-4-2 line-up in an attempt to put early pressure on Villa, with Wilfried Bony making his first start since Boxing Day as he joined Aguero up front.
Pellegrini’s side, though, lacked urgency against visitors who defended deeply, often pulling all 11 players back into their own third of the field.
Both of City’s strikers had chances in the opening quarter-of-an-hour, with Aguero showing a sublime first touch to control Fernandinho’s angled chip, before cutting inside Aly Cissokho and lifting a shot goalwards from close range, with keeper Brad Guzan nudging it over the bar.
Bony had a clear opening as he raced between defenders towards Gael Clichy’s low cross, but could not quite stretch enough and saw the ball skim wide off his boot.
Guzan was sharp to push aside a snapshot from Aguero, who then drove across goal and wide after collecting Bony’s angled return pass.
Villa, though, were not without threat, and Joe Hart had to get down quickly to turn Jordan Ayew’s 20-yard shot around his near post after Ciaran Clark’s persistence had created an opening.
City’s frustrating first half was summed up when Bony found space to meet David Silva’s corner, and planted his header around 10 yards wide.
The second half proved more satisfying for the home side, who were in front less than three minutes after the restart.
Aguero darted to the byline and cut a pass back to Silva, who played the ball square for Toure to stroke it into the corner of the net.
A second goal quickly arrived, with the struggling Bony able to claim an assist.
The Ivory Coast international’s through pass undid Villa’s defence, with Richards slicing his attempted clearance off the shins of the chasing Aguero and into the net.
If that goal had an element of fortune about it, the Argentina international followed it up with a beautifully-constructed third, chesting down Silva’s chipped return pass and drilling a shot past Guzan.
At that point, with the game won, Pellegrini brought off Bony and sent on Sterling, who was seeking to atone for a poor performance against his former club Liverpool on Wednesday.
Sterling made a fast impact with a rising shot that Guzan had to flip aside, and there was a sense that City were fully capable of adding further goals.
And so they did. Jesus Navas’s low ball across the penalty area somehow eluded every single Villa defender, and Sterling tapped in.
Aguero should have completed his hat-trick after that, as Clark tripped substitute Kelechi Iheanacho, but his penalty struck the base of the post.