Yaya Toure’s deflected effort was enough to put Manchester City past Southampton into second place in the Barclays Premier League table.
The home side’s usual standard of creativity was missing at St. Mary’s, and with their artistic touch just off, Manchester City needed just one to take all three points.
The game was wide open for the first 10 minutes despite neither team proving able to get a shot off. Manchester City began the brightest, while the hosts were sloppy on their counter-attacks.
City’s possession and incisiveness forced a pair of wayward challenges from Southampton defenders. The first from covering midfielder Victor Wanyama which earned him an early yellow card, and the second proving a very controversial moment.
In the 10th minute Sergio Aguero went down on the edge of the box under a heavy challenge by Jose Fonte. Referee Mike Jones not only waved off the penalty shouts but chose to show Aguero a card for simulation. However, replays showed a clear foul by Fonte, who got none of the ball and instead made contact with both the Argentinian’s shins, confirming what was a seriously shocking decision.
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Southampton had a brilliant chance to go in front after 20 minutes on a brilliant chipped ball from Morgan Schneiderlin to Graziano Pelle through on goal, but Joe Hart was strong to stop multiple efforts on goal.
There was a similar opportunity on the other end, but as a Stevan Jovetic effort from a tight angle clattered off Southampton goalkeeper Frazer Forster and headed for the goal mouth, it was cleared off the line by Toby Alderweireld.
Schneiderlin was forced off at halftime with reported thigh tightness, and Manchester City took advantage. With all the Southampton defenders shading to Aguero on the edge of the box, the Argentinian found Yaya Toure in acres of space at the top. He lashed a first-time shot, and it deflected off Alderweireld’s shin past Forster.
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The creative thought was there, but the home side continued to just miss through balls and incisive passes. They were given a respite with 16 minutes to go when Yaya Toure put his defenders on an island when he was dispossed by Shane Long, and Eliaquim Mangala bodied the Saints sub to the ground on the break. Having already been booked in the first half, Mike Jones showed the 23-year-old his second yellow.
But the disadvantage wouldn’t dash the defending champions, as substitute Frank Lampard would seal the win. James Milner burst down the flank on the counter, and Toby Alderweireld lost track of the former Chelsea captain. Lampard filled the space left, and Milner found him for an easy finish.
Graziano Pelle nearly pulled one back just after, but City got a third through Gael Clichy two minutes before full time to put it out of sight.
The win sends Manchester City past Southampton to second in the table, six points behind leaders Chelsea who drew this weekend. Southampton now had three defeats in three against last year’s top seven, and falls to third.
Southampton: Forster; Clyne, Fonte, Alderweireld, Bertrand; Schneiderlin (Yoshida 46′), Wanyama, S Davis; Tadic, Pelle, Mane (Long 68′).
Manchester City: Hart; Zabaleta, Kompany, Mangala, Clichy; Fernandinho, Toure, Navas, Jovetic (Milner 55′), Nasri (Lampard 65′); Aguero.
Goals: Toure (51′), Lampard 80′, Clichy 88′
Discipline: Mangala (second yellow) 74′