Departing Manuel Pellegrini hails Man City's battling triumph
Sergio Aguero served up a reminder that there is life before Pep Guardiola as Manchester City maintained their title challenge with a hard-fought victory at Sunderland.
The Argentina star's 17th goal of the season was enough to claim a 1-0 win at the Stadium of Light, with City boss Manuel Pellegrini - who will make way for Guardiola at the end of the season - admitting it wasn't easy on the eye.
"It was a tough game. This is a team who are fighting relegation. They will play every game like a final. It is not our style to play with nine defenders but it was our third game in a week and it was impossible to have a high pace with all our injuries," he said.
"It was better to defend well and concentrate."
City were far from at their best and it took fine saves by keeper Joe Hart to deny Jermain Defoe - who found himself embroiled in a running battle with defenders Martin Demichelis and Nicolas Otamendi - Billy Jones and substitute Wahbi Khazri in front of a crowd of 38,852.
But Aguero's 16th-minute strike proved sufficient to keep Pellegrini, taking charge of his 100th Premier League game, on track for an unprecedented quadruple.
Pellegrini redeployed his big guns as Hart, Demichelis, Yaya Toure, David Silva and Aguero returned.
The visitors took the lead when Jesus Navas' driven cross fell nicely for Aguero, who controlled and stabbed home nonchalantly with the outside of his right foot, his eighth goal in as many games.
Hart revealed that City's focus was solely on this encounter rather than anything that's ahead and expressed his delight that the team managed to get over the line against spirited Sunderland.
"We're here to win titles, Manuel is here to win titles and that's what we're trying to do," Hart declared.
"We back him all the way and we love him as our manager.
"We appreciate we have a job to do this season, next season is next season - I thought Sunderland were fantastic. If they carry on like that they'll have no problems at all."
Hart made an outstanding save from Defoe in the dying embers of the first half to maintain City's narrow advantage.
But the England keeper refused to take any personal accolades.
He said: "Yes, there were a couple of good saves but some fantastic defending - the boys put their bodies on the line for each other and for the manager.
"We're one and we stick together - we keep fighting."
Leicester visit the Etihad Stadium on Saturday for a mouthwatering battle between the Premier League's first and second teams.
Hart added: "Leicester have been absolutely amazing but it's all about doing what we do - Leicester's going to be a fantastic game and one that we're all looking forward to."
Sunderland boss Sam Allardyce, whose side are four points from safety, added: "While this performance was the best since I've been here, we're in trouble."
SUNDERLAND: Mannone, Jones, O'Shea, Kone, Kirchhoff, van Aanholt, Cattermole (Johnson 75), M'Vila, Borini (N'Doye 82), Lens (Khazri 45), Defoe.
Subs not used: Brown, Pickford, Yedlin, Watmore.
MAN CITY: Hart, Sagna, Demichelis, Otamendi, Clichy, Fernandinho, Yaya Toure (Kolarov 79), Navas (Sterling 76), Silva, Aguero, Iheanacho (Fernando 45).
Goals: Aguero 16
Subs not used: Zabaleta, Caballero, Celina,
Man of the match: Aguero (pictured)
Match rating: 6/10
Referee: Stuart Attwell