City romp to Villa win
Mario Balotelli did his best to prove to manager Roberto Mancini that he is his number one striker as his stunning goal helped Manchester City on their way to a crushing 4-1 win over Aston Villa that handed them the outright leadership of the Barclays Premier League.
Given the chance to lead the line for a second straight game, the 21-year-old, a £24million signing from Inter Milan last summer, thrived on the responsibility and his sumptuous first-half overhead kick brought his side to life after a sterile opening.
With Villa's resistance broken, Adam Johnson, Vincent Kompany and James Milner added second-half goals and Owen Hargreaves came on for his City Premier League debut on a near-perfect afternoon for City, who pulled two points clear of cross-city rivals United ahead of next weekend's Manchester derby. Stephen Warnock netted a consolation for Villa.
Villa started brightly but Gabriel Agbonlahor failed to make the most of a one-on-one with Joe Hart and Warnock failed with the follow-up.
But Balotelli woke City up, hitting tamely wide before going closer when his 25-yard curler reared up in front of Shay Given and was turned behind.
Balotelli had better luck when Johnson's 28th-minute corner hit Micah Richards and fell perfectly for a razor-sharp bicycle kick which left Given flat-footed.
City scored again two minutes after half-time when Warnock's slip left Johnson with a one-on-one that he did not waste.
They were denied a penalty when Balotelli took a tumble while navigating traffic in the area but they soon scored a third as Kompany, making his 100th start for the club, nodded in Johnson's corner with 52 minutes gone.
City's afternoon was slightly soured when Richards limped off just after the hour and, while he was doing so, Warnock scored from Agbonlahor's cross.
It only provided momentary solace for Villa, who fell three behind again with 20 minutes remaining. Nigel De Jong played in Johnson and the ball was moved on to Milner, who found the top corner from the edge of the box against his former club.