Manchester City showed their determination to hold onto their Premier League title with a classy victory which means Chelsea can not relax just yet.
A recent dip in form, which had coincided with Yaya Toure’s successful Africa Cup of Nations campaign with the Ivory Coast, had cast serious doubts about City’s ability to stay the course again.
Five games without a win had allowed Chelsea to open up a seven-point gap at the top of the table and the feeling was that anything but victory on a ground where they had not won a league game in 16 years might have spelled the end for City’s hopes of retaining their crown.
Stoke gave everything in the first half, deservedly cancelling out Sergio Aguero’s opening goal through Peter Crouch.
But as City went up the gears after the break, they were finally blown away by further goals from James Milner, an Aguero penalty and Samir Nasri to leave manager Manuel Pellegrini a happy man.
He said: “We returned to our normal performance, especially in the second half. We scored three goals in the second-half and had more chances. It is important, not just the score, but also because it is not easy to score four goals at Stoke. They have been the difficult team for us to score against while I have been here. It is a tough place to come. The most important thing was to win and in the way we did today.”
The game had an explosive start as Ageruo missed an early chance and Stoke were then seemingly denied a penalty when Milner handled a goalbound Crouch header.
Aguero, without a goal in six games, finally came good when he broke clear with 33 minutes gone, beating Marc Muniesa to a bouncing ball just inside Stoke’s half and racing away to beat Amir Begovic with an angled drive to claim his 20th goal of the season.
Stoke responded and within four minutes they were level, this time Crouching holding his run to head powerfully past Hart to claim his seventh goal of the campaign from a Marko Arnautovic cross.
Aguero had a goal ruled out in first-half stoppage time when he helped the ball over the line with his hand and was booked for his pains.
But there was no hangover into the second half as Pellegrini’s side took control. Milner, implored by the visiting fans to sign a new contract and stay at City, headed in a Nasri cross after 55 minutes.
And rather than sit on their lead City poured forward, Silva being pulled back by Geoff Cameron for Aguero to convert from the spot.
Still they weren’t finished though as Nasri rounded things off in style, cutting in to curl a shot beyond Begovic from 20 yards as the champions showed they aren’t ready to be deposed yet.
STOKE (4-4-2): Begovic 6; Cameron 6, Wollscheid 6, Muniesa 6, Bardsley 6; Arnautovic 6, Whelan 7 (Adams 85), Nzonzi 7 (Shenton 90), Moses 8 (Sidwell 80); Diouf 7, Crouch 8.
MAN CITY (4-2-3-1): Hart 6; Zabaleta 6, Kompany 6, Mangala 6, Kolarov 6; Fernandinho 6, Fernando 6; Milner 8, Silva 8 (Lampard 80), Nasri 8 (Navas 86); Aguero 8 (Dzeko 73).
Referee: Lee Mason 7