Manchester City 3 Blackburn 1
Manchester City produced a burst of three goals in 18 first-half minutes to record their first hat-trick of Premier League wins this season and leave Blackburn still sweating to avoid the drop.
Felipe Caicedo’s scruffy effort was followed by a Brazilian one-two as Robinho drilled home his 15th of the season and in-form Elano stroked home a penalty.
The victory keeps City well in the hunt for another bout of European action next season, ensuring not only Liverpool have a vested interest in them returning from Old Trafford with another three points next Sunday.
However, Blues boss Mark Hughes will take no pleasure in the continuing plight of his old club, even though Blackburn’s six-point advantage on north-east duo Middlesbrough and Newcastle looks fairly secure.
At times this season City have looked like a team with a purpose, at others as though they are wandering around aimlessly desperately requiring direction.
Yet the surge Hughes has been predicting since the New Year has finally arrived, just in time it seems to secure European football next season.
In fairness, there can be few more accommodating visitors to Eastlands than Blackburn, whose injury-hit troops dragged themselves to the brink of safety last weekend, only to suffer the kind of defeat that leaves them vulnerable to an expected burst of form from those below.
For almost half an hour, Sam Allardyce’s injury-hit side battled manfully, even managing a shot, woefully mistimed as it was, from Tugay.
Hughes must have been disappointed with the efforts of his current club against his old one, particularly as City had something to play for.
Elano produced a couple of neat flicks and Stephen Ireland occasionally threatened something special.
However, it was totally in keeping with the contest as a whole that the opener should be one of the scruffiest seen in the Premier League all season.
Both Ryan Nelsen and Andre Ooijer had the chance to clear Elano’s cross and failed. Nigel de Jong’s response was an uninspiring prod towards Nedum Onuoha, whose shot lacked direction and power.
Caicedo managed to turn onto it but his effort was little better. It was however, enough to deceive a partially unsighted Paul Robinson who could only watch as it rolled into the corner.
Seven minutes later the former England keeper was beaten again.
Once more Elano crossed and De Jong ferried the ball on. This time though, there was a touch of class about Robinho’s precise finish.
It took the Brazilian’s tally for the season to 15 and made it three in three games after a long barren streak, with the prospect of more to come.
City had not finished their first-half scoring either.
Referee Mike Dean seemed to have made a fairly routine decision when he awarded a penalty for Gael Givet’s handball.
But Rovers’ protests were so fierce, Ooijer, Nelsen and Vince Grella were all booked. Not that it had any effect on Elano.
Like his fellow countryman Robinho, the midfielder seems to have found a rich vein of form and he tucked home his third goal in four games.
With victory assured, City returned to their former scrappy ways, the introduction of the popular Valeri Bojinov for Caicedo, who is starting to produce consistently effective performances, just about the only thing to raise a cheer.
Tugay’s bad tempered reaction to being substituted by Allardyce had diverted attention long enough to leave general bemusement at Dean’s second penalty award of the day.
Yet Nedum Onuaha’s clumsy attempt at winning the ball inside his own box definitely left an imprint on Morten Gamst Pedersen rather than the ball.
And while Shay Given was able to keep out El Hadji-Diouf’s penalty, plus his follow-up, substitute Keith Andrews was able to tap home the loose ball with his first touch.
Despite their greater enthusiasm, it was all Rovers could muster, so their fight for survival extends another week although the teams below Allardyce’s side are so bad it is quite possible Blackburn have enough points already.