Aguero brace fills City full of Christmas cheer
Man City 3 Stoke City 0
When they look back on 2011 at Manchester City, they can now add Christmas No 1 to FA Cup glory and Champions League qualification in a year that might just be bettered in 2012.
A routine 3-0 victory against Stoke, City's 27th win out of 29 home games in all competitions in 2011 -- the other two were draws -- confirmed the club's place at the summit of English football's top flight on Christmas Day for the first time since 1929.
In May, that milestone will count for nothing if Roberto Mancini's players fail to deliver the club's first league title since 1968, but as two goals from Sergio Aguero and a powerful strike from Adam Johnson proved sufficient to see off Stoke, there appeared little prospect of the wheels coming off in the second half of the season.
Manchester United might be breathing down their neck in second place, but City's ruthless victory proved without doubt that they are now the Premier League's team to beat.
Mindful that just a point would be enough to keep City ahead of Manchester United at the top of the table over Christmas, the home side went into the game having already secured one victory of sorts over their Mancunian rivals.
Following a stand-off between the two clubs over ticket allocations for the FA Cup third-round clash at the Etihad Stadium on January 8, the FA last night confirmed that, following advice from Greater Manchester Police and local authorities, United will receive just 5,691 tickets for the fixture and not the 7,100 they had anticipated, due to safety considerations.
On and off the pitch, City are becoming rather accustomed to winning and by half-time in this fixture, Mancini's players were on course for a 14th successive league victory on home turf.
City have not dropped a point at the Etihad since a 1-1 draw against Fulham last February and although Stoke arrived having won on their last four league outings, the outcome of this game appeared inevitable even before Aguero gave Mancini's team the lead on 29 minutes.
Prior to the Argentinian forward's 12th league goal of the season, City had dominated the early stages and gone close to opening the scoring on 15 minutes when Johnson's deflected shot bounced off the roof the Stoke crossbar.
At times, Stoke lined up with six defenders across the 18-yard line as they attempted to resist the blue tide, but just as Norwich discovered earlier this month, the quality of City's attacking play is so high that obdurate resistance is an ultimately flawed approach against the league leaders.
And despite their defensive mindset, Stoke were able to hold out for less than half an hour before Thomas Sorensen was forced to pick the ball out of the net.
There were Stoke claims for offside as Aguero stabbed the ball in from two yards at the far post, but television replays suggested that the forward was onside when Vincent Kompany nudged Yaya Toure's cross into his path from the edge of the six-yard box.
It was a tight call for the assistant referee, but he made the right one.
Stoke, missing the England forward Peter Crouch due to headaches and dizziness which forced him to visit hospital on Tuesday, were now faced with an almighty challenge if they were to get back into the game.
And City's pressure told seven minutes after Aguero's opener when Johnson made it 2-0 following a mistake in the Stoke defence.
Dean Whitehead's clearance from David Silva in the six-yard box was half-hearted and it dropped 20 yards out to Jonathan Walters, but the Republic of Ireland forward did not anticipate the ball and Johnson gleefully intercepted before beating Sorensen with a stunning left-foot strike from 20 yards.
Trailing 2-0 at the interval, the obvious task facing Stoke was damage limitation but City again upped the tempo as they attempted to boost their goal difference further.
Aguero tested Sorensen with a 20-yard effort on 49 minutes which was well saved by the Danish goalkeeper and Sorensen denied the City striker again four minutes later when he struck goalwards from six yards.
Stoke were being forced to retreat deeper and deeper, however, and a slick move between Silva and Samir Nasri on 54 minutes resulted in Nasri squaring the ball for the unmarked Aguero to score from close range.
For the 12th time in 17 league games, City had scored three or more goals and that statistic alone emphasises just why they are favourites to win the league. (© Daily Telegraph, London)