LONDON — Manchester City will be top at Christmas for the first time in 82 years after they cruised to a 3-0 victory over Stoke City at the Etihad Stadium on Wednesday night.
Two goals from Sergio Aguero and one from Adam Johnson were enough to give Roberto Mancini another comfortable victory, although City fans would be unwise to celebrate too soon — just eight sides that were top at Christmas have gone on to win the Premier League football title.
After a drab opening, Adam Johnson’s effort that deflected away off the bar was the first effort of note, but City were ahead soon after, thanks to Aguero.
The Stoke defence failed to close down Yaya Toure from a short corner, and his cross found Vincent Kompany, whose effort was pushed away by Thomas Sorensen as the Argentine, with suspicions of offside, cleaned up.
Johnson then got on the scoresheet, however, taking just one touch before lashing home a great effort from all of 25 yards to ease Roberto Mancini’s mind — not that it needed too much easing, as an abject display from Stoke barely saw them ever escape their own half.
Shortly after the break the game was well and truly killed off, as Aguero again got himself on the scoresheet after Samir Nasri’s low cross found him unmarked inside the box.
Elsewhere, Arsenal snatched a 2-1 victory over Aston Villa, as Yossi Benayoun headed home minutes from time after Robin van Persie’s early penalty was cancelled out by Marc Albrighton’s smart finish.
Van Persie had scored from the spot after Theo Walcott had lured Ciaran Clark into giving away a spot-kick, but Albrighton profited from Thomas Vermaelen’s error to notch the 20 000th goal in Premier League history and put the home side on course for a share of the points.
But substitute Benayoun ensured that would not be the case, stealing in inside the box to head home in the final phase of the game and grab three points for the Gunners.
Manchester United romped to a comfortable 5-0 victory over Fulham at Craven Cottage to keep the pressure on their cross-town rivals, with Wayne Rooney and Dimitar Berbatov adding gloss to the scoreline in the closing stages.
United took an early lead thanks to Danny Welbeck as Fulham paid the price for some inattentive defending. Nani had the freedom of West London to storm towards the box and laid the ball on perfectly for the England international to stroke home.
The game was all but killed off not long later, with Nani taking advantage of some great service to nod past David Stockdale. This time it was Ryan Giggs providing the ammunition, although Rooney — celebrating his 300th Premier League appearance — came close to stealing a touch as the ball headed goalward.
Giggs took advantage of more lacklustre defending to add a third before half-time and then Rooney and Berbatov notched in the last two minutes.
It was not all good news for United, however, as Phil Jones was forced off in the opening stages with a facial injury that early reports suggest could see him ruled out for six weeks.
Elsewhere, Ali Al Habsi denied Charlie Adam from the penalty spot to ensure Wigan claimed a deserved point after an entertaining 0-0 draw with Liverpool at the DW Stadium.
Kenny Dalglish opted to start forward Luis Suarez despite the controversy surrounding him, with Liverpool players all donning T-shirts in support of the Uruguayan during their pre-match warm-up.
Suarez may have been the centre of attention, but he was not the focus of matters on the pitch, with Wigan arguably unlucky not to get a penalty after Victor Moses was tripped by Martin Skrtel, before Skrtel, Jordan Henderson and Glen Johnson all tested Ali Al Habsi with good efforts.
Mohamed Diame remained a threat for the hosts, however, and worried Pepe Reina twice with strikes before the half-hour mark.
If Suarez had been quiet in the first half he sparked into life in the second, as his speculative bicycle kick earned a penalty after Gary Caldwell stopped it heading at goal with an outstretched hand.
The forward wanted to take the spot-kick, but was overruled by Adam, who was then denied by Al Habsi, guessing the right way to parry the powerful strike wide with a strong right arm.
The final half-hour saw a plethora of chances for both sides, but Al Habsi in particular stayed on his toes to somehow ensure the game finished goalless as Liverpool found no respite from their current off-field issues.
Newcastle’s recent slump continued as they were beaten 3-2 by West Brom, with Paul Scharner finding the winner with 85 minutes gone, just after Demba Ba thought he had grabbed his side a share of the points.
The opening goal of the game took 20 minutes to arrive, and it came to the visitors after Chris Brunt’s great through ball was latched onto by Peter Odemwingie, before the revitalised Nigerian prodded it beyond Tim Krul.
Newcastle almost equalised immediately — Ba’s finish ruled out for offside almost before it crossed the line — but the forward would restore parity 15 minutes later with a wonderfully curled free-kick that gave Ben Foster no chance.