City will be Christmas tree-toppers

ROBERTO MANCINI can enjoy the festive period safe in the knowledge his Manchester City side are perched at the summit of the Premier League table on Christmas Day for the first time since 1929 and if they continue to brush past opponents as easily as they did Stoke, it will be hard to see them removed.

However, Mancini certainly will be keen to avoid a repeat of what happened 82 years ago, when City went on an immediate five-match losing streak and ended the season in third place.

With the squad at his disposal, it is hard to imagine Mancini seeing his side go anywhere close to such a woeful run, even with in-form Manchester United hot on their heels.

Mancini said: “I’m happy to be at the top at Christmas, I’m happy for our supporters, they can have a good Christmas Day. But I think it’s important to stay there at the end of the season and this will be difficult.

“United continue to win every game, Arsenal and Tottenham. But it is better to be at the top then second.’’

The back bone of City’s success has been their remarkable home record as two goals from Sergio Aguero and one from Adam Johnson secured an unbeaten 2011 for City at the Etihad Stadium.

Undefeated in 29 games in all competitions for the calendar year at home and an unblemished record in the Premier League this season, which was stretched to nine victories in as many games, points to the fact Mancini has made the Etihad Stadium a fortress.

In fact, only Fulham have visited City this year in the Premier League and come away with something — a solitary point back in February.

However, few of the 16 Premier League victories amassed before last night in the calendar year will have come in as effortless fashion as this.

Teams certainly fear visiting City, much like they do Old Trafford on the other side of Manchester, and Stoke provided exactly the performance that proved as much.

In a fairly quiet opening 25 minutes, the closest City came to breaking the deadlock was a Johnson strike that was deflected onto the crossbar by Marc Wilson.

But while City weren’t creating a mass of early opportunities, they were dominant as a Stoke side without Peter Crouch, who was taken to hospital on Tuesday after complaining of headaches and dizziness, rarely got out of their own half.

The hosts finally claimed a deserved lead in the 29th minute thanks to the magic, yet again, of David Silva.

The Spaniard cut inside his man with relative ease to create space and slide Yaya Toure clear down the left.

The Ivory Coast midfielder’s effort was deflected, however, but after Vincent Kompany got a slight touch, Aguero was on hand to finish from little more than a yard out.

City stretched their lead in the 36th minute thanks to an early Christmas gift from Stoke. Dean Whitehead cleared rather tamely to Jonathan Walters but the Republic of Ireland international was caught on his heels and Johnson was alert to steal the ball from his toe before finding the bottom corner with an exquisite finish.

Stoke’s response to their half-time deficit was to simply continue in the same vain and they were immediately punished.

Samir Nasri found space down the right in the 54th minute and he then crossed for Aguero who tapped home his second.

The opportunity for a hat-trick presented itself soon after for the Argentine front man but his attempted chip over the sliding Thomas Sorensen did not have the right trajectory to get over the Dane.

MANCHESTER CITY: Hart 6; Richards 6 (Savic 59, 6), Kompany 7, Lescott 6, Clichy 6; Y Toure 7, Barry 6 (Milner 83); Silva 7 (Balotelli 68, 6), Nasri 6, Johnson 7; Aguero 8.

STOKE CITY: Sorensen 7; Woodgate 6 (Diao 80), Huth 5, Upson 5, Wilson 6; Shotton 5, Whitehead 4, Palacios 6, Jerome 4 (Fuller 68, 6); Walters 5; Jones 5 (Pennant 74, 5).

Referee: Mike Dean.

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