Edin Dzeko scored Manchester City’s 100th goal of the season, and Jesus Navas, Yaya Toure and Sergio Aguero also tallied for the hosts, who cruised to a 4-2 win against Cardiff City at Etihad Stadium on Saturday.
Craig Noone, who was the Bluebirds’ most consistent attacking threat on the day, briefly equalized for the guests near the half-hour mark, and Frazier Campbell earned Cardiff some small consolation with a late header to round out the scoring.
Fresh off their midweek FA Cup replay victory over Blackburn Rovers, City went on the front-foot from kick-off and might well have won a penalty in the opening minute had referee Neil Swarbrick looked more kindly on Dzeko, who had been brought down inside the area by Kevin McNaughton.
But the Bosnia-Herzegovina international would need less than a quarter-hour to open the hosts’ account, the 27-year-old miss-hitting David Silva’s pass but nevertheless hitting City’s century when Swarbrick’s watch informed him that the ball had crossed over the line.
Top scorer Alvaro Negredo quite nearly doubled the Premier League title contenders’ lead just 10 minutes later when he flashed his shot slightly wide of the far post from a good position inside Cardiff’s 18-yard box.
City would rue the miss, if only for a time, as five minutes later, the guests were level.
Noone, who put in an impressive display on the right wing for the Welsh outfit, created and scored the goal from nothing when he received a return ball from Aron Gunnarsson, jinked past Vincent Kompany and finished expertly inside the near post.
City’s reply was nearly immediate, however, and came in the form of a Jesus Navas goal following a nice piece of buildup involving Dzeko and Toure.
Cardiff, who were showing no signs of backing down, began brightly after the restart and forced Pablo Zabaleta into a pair of blocks—first on Noone’s cross and then on Campbell.
It would take until the 76th minute for City to finally get the insurance marker they so desperately craved, and it came after Toure dispossessed his opponent, scampered downfield and stroked the ball into the right-hand corner following a clever one-two with Aguero, who had replaced Negredo on the hour mark.
Three minutes later, Aguero put the result beyond doubt when he completed a twisting move past Ben Turner with a goal, and when Campbell popped up with a late header for Cardiff, the three points had already been claimed by City.
After the match, City manager Manuel Pellegrini lauded his side’s “fantastic” football but also left room for some improvement.
“Maybe I am not 100 per cent happy because we conceded the second goal in the last minute,” he told the BBC. “But we scored four and missed five or six clear chances, so if we continue to play like we are, we are always going to score more than we concede.”
Key Player Grades
Yaya Toure: A+
The African Player of the Year completed 94 per cent of his passes, played through a sublime ball in the buildup to the Navas goal and successfully executed a pair of tackles in a Man of the Match performance.
Craig Noone: A
The 26-year-old was by far Cardiff’s most dangerous attacker, and over the course of the 90 minutes, he tortured two City left-backs, completed eight long dribbles and scored a goal that briefly had his side on level terms.
Next up for Manchester City is the second leg of their Capital One Cup semifinal with West Ham, after which they’ll host Watford in the FA Cup and travel to London for a showdown with Tottenham Hotspur. Cardiff, meanwhile, are away to Bolton in the FA Cup next Saturday and will visit Manchester United on January 28.
Statistics courtesy WhoScored.com.