City drubbing turns up heat on struggling Toon
Man City 4 Newcastle 0
Just as Manchester City produced a performance of champions when it is too late to matter, Newcastle United trudged off the pitch at the Etihad following a display that carried all the hallmarks of relegation at the worst possible stage of the season.
City's victory, following goals from Carlos Tevez, David Silva, Vincent Kompany and Yaya Toure, reduced Manchester United's lead at the top of the table to 15 points ahead of next Monday's Old Trafford derby, but it was the gap between Newcastle and the bottom three which proved the most eye-catching statistic.
With seven games to play and the potentially draining distraction of the forthcoming Europa League quarter-final double-header against Benfica, Alan Pardew's team have no cushion to fall back upon after dropping to just three points off the drop zone.
"I don't think we ever thought we were out of it and we won't be until we get 40 points," Pardew said. "There is nothing we can do about the other teams' results, we just have to do the business in the other games and that's our focus from now on.
"I don't think anyone else we will play in the Premier League for the rest of this season will be as good as the team we have played today."
Newcastle were so abject against the champions that they failed to test City goalkeeper Joe Hart until substitute Dan Gosling forced him into a save with a tame close-range effort on 78 minutes. City, in contrast, were driven and ruthless as they claimed the points, but what this win will actually mean to the title race is debatable.
With the news of United's 1-0 victory at Sunderland filtering through to the Etihad while the players warmed up prior to kick-off, an air of resignation descended on the stadium as the faint hope of overhauling Alex Ferguson's team dissipated even further.
While retaining the title remains a mathematic possibility, however, City will continue to chase United – last season's fightback from eight points adrift with six games to play underlined the reality that the unthinkable can sometimes happen.
But while Roberto Mancini and his players maintained a sense of belief last season, even when the title appeared to have gone, there is not the same confidence this time around. The general acceptance is that it is a case of when, not if, United win the league, but defeating Newcastle ensured that Ferguson's players will have to wait a while longer before demanding the Premier League trophy makes the three-mile journey from the Etihad back to Old Trafford.
In reality, City's priority now is to put enough distance between themselves and the chasing pack of Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea to ensure they claim the runners-up spot behind United, rather than slide further away from the leaders.
With captain Kompany restored to the back four for the first time in two months following a calf injury and Toure back in the team following his absence in the 2-0 defeat at Everton, Mancini was at least able to turn to his big guns as City embarked on the final leg of the campaign.
And the overall strength of City's team proved too much for Newcastle to bear as the home side cruised to an easy victory. Prior to Tevez's opener, four minutes before half-time, City missed a host of chances through Edin Dzeko, Gareth Barry and Tevez himself as Newcastle were pushed back into their own half.
Tevez's goal rounded off a flowing move started by Toure, however, with the Ivorian feeding Silva with a raking pass before the Spaniard's first-time ball to Gael Clichy was crossed for Tevez to score at the far post.
Newcastle, who had frustrated City with the time-wasting of goalkeeper Rob Elliot, now had to come up with a Plan B after sitting back in the hope that they would not concede. There was no Plan B, though, and City scored again in first-half stoppage-time when Silva made no mistake from 12 yards after neat set-up play by Samir Nasri.
City extended their margin of victory after the interval, with Kompany diverting a Barry shot into the net with his heel before Toure was allowed to stroll through the back four before beating Elliot at the near post for the fourth.
"We played very well," Mancini said. "Maybe it's too late but it's important, we have another month left. It's impossible we can win the title but it's important we finish the season well."