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Manchester City end Stoke run to keep in touch with United
Manchester City inflicted a first league defeat in 11 games on Stoke as the Premier League champions kept their title challenge alive with a 3-0 win at Eastlands on Tuesday.
Goals from Pablo Zabaleta, Edin Dzeko and a Sergio Aguero penalty saw Roberto Mancini's team make the perfect start to 2013 as they remain within seven points of league leaders Manchester United, who won 4-0 at Wigan.
As has been the case for so much of the season, City dominated the first half completely, in terms of possession, but were frustrated by the lack of an end product until taking the lead three minutes before the interval.
Aguero was at the heart of so much of City's enterprising play and the Argentina forward almost handed his side the lead in the opening minute when he gathered James Milner's pass at full speed and skipped his way past a challenge before his low shot was kept out by goalkeeper Asmir Begovic.
As City kept pressing, Andy Wilkinson made a telling tackle to deny Aguero six yards out but, after Gareth Barry sent over a cross from the resulting breakdown in play, Aguero met the ball with a near post header that struck the post and flew behind.
Begovic was also required to leap into action to deny Aguero halfway through the opening period after the home forward collected Barry's pass and turned his marker Ryan Shawcross.
Aguero took a step into the Stoke area and unleashed a low shot which the visiting goalkeeper did well to keep out with a sharp, low dive to his right.
Finally, as the half-time whistle approached, City's growing frustrations were eased as they took a deserved lead through Argentine full-back Zabaleta in the 43rd minute.
Milner drilled in a low cross from the right-hand by-line which Begovic was forced to keep out with an extended foot, the ball falling straight to Zabaleta who returned it into the open net from six yards.
The solitary goal lead was the least City deserved to take into the dressing room at half-time after 45 minutes of complete domination.
Stoke scarcely managed to get the ball into the final third of the field and a coming together between Barry and Charlie Adam was the closest thing to a moment of anxiety for the home team as visiting supporters appealed for a penalty.
Dzeko, a virtual non-factor in the first half, started the second in far more dangerous form.
After three minutes, he met Yaya Toure's through ball with a terrific half volley which just cleared the Stoke goal.
Toure then darted into the area where he pulled the ball back for Dzeko whose 12-yard shot was deflected behind and, finally, after 55 minutes, Dzeko secured his 10th of the season after more productive approach play from Aguero.
Aguero eased past Glenn Whelan and his driven cross-shot was steered by Begovic directly into the path of Dzeko who tapped in from point blank.
An Adam free-kick on the hour was Stoke's first attempt on goal and had Hart performing an unconvincing punch clear and Jonathan Walters missed a chance to pull one back for the visitors, when he miscued, just six yards out, from a corner moments later.
But any uncertainty about the result was removed after 73 minutes when Steven N'Zonzi tripped David Silva in the box and Aguero drove in the resulting penalty.
With time running out, Whelan's spectacular 25-yard strike was turned onto the post by Hart but it was far too little too late from the visitors.
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