This season’s title race—one of the most intriguing and closely contested in years—took another significant twist today as Manchester City regained the ascendancy with just three games left to play. Liverpool’s defeat to Chelsea at Anfield, which brought their 11-match winning streak to an end, means City's 2-0 victory at Selhurst Park puts them back in the driving seat after a stuttering few weeks had seen them surrender the initiative.
It's a vital win against a side who had won their last five games, meaning next week’s trip to Everton, by far the hardest of City’s remaining fixtures, has taken on huge importance.
Win and City would be in touching distance of their second league title in three seasons, with winnable home games against Aston Villa and West Ham to follow the match on Merseyside.
City often struggle against Everton, a side who have improved under Roberto Martinez, with their high-intensity passing game proving too much for many sides to handle this season.
However, with Gareth Barry unavailable due to the terms of his loan deal, and Kevin Mirallas and Sylvain Distin set to miss out through injury, it seems City have rarely had a better chance to come away from one of their bogey grounds with three points.
Manuel Pellegrini's men now find themselves three points behind leaders Liverpool with a game in hand, but their superior goal difference means they are now favourites to be crowned champions.
With a trip to Palace to come next week, it will be interesting to see how Brendan Rodgers' side react to their disappointing defeat to a much-changed Chelsea side when they take on a side who, before today, have proven difficult to beat since the turn of the year.
The City players, who Pellegrini confirmed afterwards were aware of the result from Anfield before their match, were ahead after just four minutes. Edin Dzeko's close-range header sent the away fans into a state of frenzied excitement, settling the nerves of the City players and silencing the usually raucous home support.
The Bosnian has scored some big goals in his City career, but this was right up there in terms of its significance.
City doubled their advantage just before half-time after a great breakaway involving slick passing from Dzeko, Samir Nasri and Yaya Toure, which ended with the Ivorian firing a left-footed shot into the top corner beyond the hapless Julian Speroni.
The noise emanating from the away end as the players celebrated suggested belief City can win the title has returned to the terraces after recent disappointments against Liverpool and Sunderland had seen many give up hope.
Toure was described by Tony Pulis afterwards as "absolutely wonderful," with his power and pace a huge factor in City's win and made even more remarkable by the fact he was returning from a three-week layoff. He now has 23 goals in all competitions and has once again proven himself to be one the stars of this absorbing Premier League.
Whereas Chelsea had displayed a soft side in their recent 1-0 defeat at Selhurst Park, City were mixing quick passing and movement with a physical strength that denied Palace the opportunity to get a foothold in the game.
It was yet another example of the spirit in this City side and can be filed alongside Newcastle and Hull as one of the most determined away showings they've managed this season.
Palace, who were bottom of the league when Tony Pulis took charge back in November having taken just four points from 11 matches, have secured their top-flight status for another year after a remarkable tunraround in form.
Their 39-point haul from the 25 games since Pulis agreed to take charge is one of the stories of the season, and their fans, who have been excellent for the majority of the campaign, deserve to see their side compete at this level for another season.
Unlike Palace, City still have everything to play for and Pellegrini told reporters after the game:
The only thing that is different is that we are not depending on other teams and what matters is only what we do between now and the end of the season.
I was obviously very happy with Chelsea’s win, but this is far from the end of the title race because all three teams have very hard games still to play and as I said at the start of the season, I believe the championship will be decided on the last day of the season.
What we do know is that we need to play our remaining games with the same levels of concentration and intensity as we showed today in our final matches - but it has been a very good weekend for us.
Having seized the initiative once more, City must now use the disappointment they felt after the draw with Sunderland—a game which appeared to have ended their title chances—as motivation to avoid any further slipups. Chelsea and Liverpool will no doubt be ready to pounce should City fail to achieve nine points from their final three games.
The City fans who claimed after the 2012 title win that they never wanted to win it on goal difference again, may very well be altering their stance after today's events.
Rob Pollard is Bleacher Report's lead Manchester City correspondent and will be following the club from a Manchester base throughout the 2013-14 season. Follow him on Twitter here: @RobPollard_.