Bernardo Silva grabbed his first goal of the season and Ilkay Gundogan scored a late penalty as Manchester City kept their fine run of form going with victory over Aston Villa at a rain-soaked Etihad.
After 19 days without a league game following an outbreak of coronavirus, Villa were thrown straight back into the deep end with a trip to in-form City, who had won five consecutive Premier League matches.
Villa had defended superbly to repel City, with Matty Cash and Matt Target excellent in particular, and it looked increasingly like Pep Guardiola's side would drop points at home.
Silva was denied by Emiliano Martinez at point-blank range in the best chance of the first half.
Bernardo Silva of Manchester City attempts to shoot past Emiliano Martinez of Aston Villa during the Premier League match between Manchester City and Aston Villa at Etihad Stadium on January 20, 2021 in Manchester, England.
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Joao Cancelo's impressive performance at wingback was almost capped with a goal but he struck the crossbar as City's frustrations continued after the restart.
Gundogan spurned a couple of chances, and it appeared to be one of those nights for City until Silva found the net with a delicious curling effort with just 11 minutes remaining. Rodri had come from back from an offside position to tackle Mings in the build-up, and as City celebrated, Villa boss Dean Smith remonstrated with the officials and was subsequently sent off. Despite his appeals, VAR did not overturn the decision.
City's push for a second goal was rewarded when Cash handled a Gabriel Jesus header and referee Jon Moss pointed to the spot, with Gundogan putting gloss on the victory.
TALKING POINT - City find a way as run continues
This was an absorbing match, and it's unfortunate that City's controversial opener will ultimately dominate the post-match coverage. Villa's complaints may well have been warranted, but having defended excellently throughout, Mings has ultimately undone his side's good work by losing the ball in such a dangerous area.
In terms of the match result, it feels like a significant victory for City, who have quietly moved back into contention and topped the table for the first time since August 2019, albeit briefly as Manchester United would later defeat Fulham. Having been as low as 15th just a matter of months ago, City are now 16 games unbeaten and have won nine consecutive games in all competitions.
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It seems City have found their groove again at just the right stage of the season, and with West Brom, Sheffield United and Burnley coming up next in the Premier League, Guardiola's side could really take control of the title race if they do the business and other results go their way. Minor injuries to Kyle Walker and Kevin De Bruyne may be the only concern on an otherwise productive night.
MAN OF THE MATCH - Joao Cancelo (Man City)
A toss-up between Cancelo and Foden, both of whom caused such a threatening presence on the left flank, the former just shades it. Cancelo was excellent on the overlap, constantly drifting into space and creating space for others.
Man City: Ederson 6, Walker N/A, Dias 7, Stones 7, Cancelo 9, Rodri 7, Gundogan 7, De Bruyne 7, Bernardo 7, Sterling 6, Foden 8.. subs: Jesus 5, Zinchenko 6, Mahrez 5.
Aston Villa: Martinez 6, Cash 8, Ngoyo 7, Mings 6, Targett 8, Luiz 7, McGinn 6, Traore 6, Grealish 7, Barkley 6, Watkins 6.. subs: El Ghazi 5, Ramsey 5.
79' - GOAL! Manchester City 1-0 Aston Villa (Bernardo Silva): There's the opener! It takes a moment of magic from Bernardo Silva to break Villa's resilience. He cuts inside and with his left foot he curls an unstoppable shot into the top corner. Villa are appealing for offside - but this is going to count.
90' - GOAL! Manchester City 2-0 Aston Villa (Ilkay Gundogan, pen): No mistake from Gundogan as he seals the points with a coolly-taken penalty.
- The only Premier League match this season with more shots than Man City's 2-0 win tonight over Aston Villa (39) was Manchester United 6-2 Leeds last month (43).
- İlkay Gündoğan has scored seven goals in 19 appearances in all competitions this season, with 2020-21 already his best goalscoring campaign in his top-flight career.
- Bernardo Silva scored his first Premier League goal at the Etihad Stadium in 20 appearances, since scoring a hat-trick against Watford in September 2019.