City are now just one victory away from being crowned Premier League champions after thrashing Aston Villa 4-0 at a rain-soaked Etihad Stadium.
The victory saw the Blues reach the 100 league goals mark for the season as well as moving two points clear of Liverpool at the top of the table – though this was far from a straightforward victory against a stubborn Villa side who clung on for more than an hour before the breakthrough finally came.
With City’s vastly superior goal difference in mind, avoiding defeat against West Ham on Sunday will now virtually guarantee the title returns to the Etihad for the second time in three years - though you never know in football!
Understandably, given the importance of the occasion, the opening half-hour was cagey with Villa packing their defence, often with ten men behind the ball.
City probed away relentlessly with the ball rarely leaving the visitors’ half, but the final pass was often over-hit or misplaced as the incessant rain continued to fall and increase the pace of the pitch.
The only real chance in the opening exchanges fell to Yaya Toure who diverted Pablo Zabaleta’s cross towards goal from close range, but there wasn’t enough power of the shot and Brad Guzan scrambled the ball clear.
As the half wore on, Villa came out of their shell somewhat with the Blues continuing to labour and the frustration began to grow among the sell-out crowd. City needed a break or a flash of inspiration to kick-start their evening and when Yaya played Zabaleta in behind the Villa defence five minutes before the break, but his cross was snuffed out easily.
Bus well and truly parked, Villa clearly weren’t intent on making this an interesting spectacle, despite their safety being guaranteed at the weekend – not that they had to, it’s worth adding.
Then, in first-half injury time, James Milner raced into the box and whipped in a cross that any one of three City players looked set to prod home, but it was Samir Nasri who somehow directed the ball wide from four yards out. Surely it wasn’t going to be one of those nights?
The second-half began as it had ended and again, the Blues were a whisker from taking the lead six minutes in when skipper Vincent Kompany was a fraction away from really connecting with a spectacular overhead kick from eight yards out.
Five minutes later Aleks Kolarov’s free-kick forced Guzan into a decent save, but as the clocked ticked past the hour-mark, there was still no break-through.
Milner was sacrificed for Stevan Jovetic as Manuel Pellegrini attempted a formation change to try and unlock the visitors’ defence and finally, the goal the Blues deserved came as David Silva fed Pablo Zabaleta and the Argentine’s cross was poked home by man of the moment Edin Dzeko.
The Etihad erupted with delight and relief in equal measure – tonight was all about winning and the performance secondary, but there was still plenty of time left for more drama and what City really needed was a second goal to calm everyone’s nerves – and eight minutes later, the Blues did indeed double their lead.
Again Silva drove forward, fed Zabaleta and this time his cross was hit goalwards by Nasri who saw his shot saved by Guzan, but again Dzeko was on hand to tap home from two yards for his 26th goal of a memorable campaign
Prior to that, Villa’s idea of adventure was restricted to crossing the halfway line, so it came as something of a shock when their first attempt on target thundered the underside of the bar following Andreas Weimann’s header – but referee Oliver pointed out that his wrist indicator hadn’t buzzed for the ball crossing line, though it had been mightily close.
It was a timely reminder that there could be no switching off and that the job still had to be completed -and completed it was, in some style, too.
Yaya teased the beleaguered Villa defence one way then the other before teeing up Jovetic to pass the ball home from 15 yards on 89 minutes and at last it was game, set and match – well, not quite!
Poised on 99 Premier League goals for the campaign, Yaya burst forward deep into injury time leaving defenders in his wake before cracking home the ball for City’s one hundredth Premier League goal of the campaign – one that was more than worthy of such a historic landmark.
Yaya also became only the second player of the Premier League era to strike 20 league goals from midfield – an incredible milestone by an incredible player.
Now City need just one more point to secure the title – tune in for more drama on Sunday against West Ham…