Manchester City will soon give up their Premier League title but they maintained their grip on second place by comfortably brushing aside Newcastle United 4-0 in a one-sided clash.
First-half goals from Carlos Tevez and David Silva were supplemented by a delicious back-heeled flick from Vincent Kompany on his long-awaited return to the team early in the second half.
With Roberto Mancini’s team playing for the last hour with the kind of flourish that has usually evaded them during their title challenge, Yaya Toure capitalised by smashing in the fourth.
As the first semblance of spring loosened winter’s icy grip on March, City have the warm feeling of a comprehensive victory that lifts them to 62 points and five clear of third-placed Tottenham.
At lunchtime, Manchester United had maintained their iron grip on the title race by winning at Sunderland to extend their league lead to a remarkable 18 points.
Mancini has long accepted that the main fight is for the minor places, but at least the Italian had the satisfaction of City narrowing the gap back to 15 with one of their more convincing displays of the season.
By contrast, Newcastle are left looking uncomfortably over their shoulders as they risk getting sucked into the drop zone. Wigan’s victory over Norwich mean Alan Pardew’s team are now only three points clear of 18th place.Earlier, City welcomed skipper Kompany back into the team after two months and eight matches on the sidelines. He was partnered in central defence by Joleon Lescott as Mancini made five changes from the team that lost to Everton on March 16, with Yaya Toure, Gael Clichy and Samir Nasri also returning to the starting XI.
Injury-crippled Newcastle, missing a host of regulars including Tim Krul, Hatem Ben Arfa, Mathieu Debuchy, Fabricio Colocinni and Cheick Tiote, made four changes, with Danny Simpson and Gabriel Obertan handed rare starts. Rookies Adam Campbell and Curtis Good, neither of whom have made a first-team start, were named on the substitute’s bench.
The weak pre-match rendition of ‘Blue Moon’ from the City followers was matched by an early insipidness to the home team’s play.
As a beard-less and overcoat-less Pardew made furtive tactical notes in the technical area, Newcastle’s re-jigged defence minimised City’s attacking opportunities with their customary physical approach.
The champions nearly became the latest victims of a volleyed special from Papiss Cisse midway through the opening period. A floated Vurnon Anita cross was met with a stinging shot from a seemingly unthreatening angle but Joe Hart’s left leg prevented the Senegalese striker putting his team ahead.
Moments later, Gareth Barry was unable to match Cisse’s composure in front of goal. The midfielder had the goal at his mercy after a rebound fell neatly into his path but, much to the joy of the Newcastle fans behind Rob Elliot’s goal, Barry blazed his finish wildly over the bar.
While the Englishman looked for a giant hole to swallow him up, City finally threw off the shackles. Gael Clichy had a shot saved well by Eliot, Dzeko headed just wide from a corner and Silva had a goal correctly ruled out for off-side.
Four minutes before the break, Newcastle’s resistance was over. Clichy’s teasing cross on the run presented Tevez with a golden opportunity to extend his scoring run and the Argentine duly bundled in his seventh goal in six matches.
On the cusp of half-time, a now rampant home side doubled their advantage. Silva was surrounded by a posse of black-and-white shirts as he collected Nasri’s pass in the box, but the Spaniard smartly shifted the ball to his left and arrowed his shot across the goal and beyond Eliot’s left hand.
The visitors demonstrated greater purpose after the break, with Yohan Cabaye coming close to giving the travelling Newcastle support something to really sing about.
However, the game was effectively made safe for City after 56 minutes when the visitors failed to clear a corner. Barry’s fizzed shot from the edge of the box was met with the most impudent and delicate of flicks from Kompany, who back-heeled it into the net on the volley.
Toure steamrollered past a retreating Newcastle defence to smash in the fourth from a tight angle, although the Ivorian benefitted from a slight deflection from sub James Perch.
Immediately afterwards, Kompany left the pitch to a standing ovation. The job had been done and the home fans could relax and enjoy a passing exhibition for the remaining minutes.