A two-goal sucker punch moments before halftime helped Manchester City beat Southampton 4-1 on Saturday and keep the pressure on at the top of the Premier League table, as Jay Rodriguez’s World Cup hopes were hit by a knee injury.
A Rickie Lambert penalty cancelled out Yaya Toure’s early goal from the spot, but late strikes to Samir Nasri and Edin Dzeko meant the 2011-12 champions went into the break with a two-goal lead, an advantage they extended through Stevan Jovetic with nine minutes left.
City moved to second place with 70 points, one behind Liverpool who play West Ham United on Sunday.
Chelsea, with 69 points, can move past them both if they beat Stoke City later on Saturday, although City currently have a match in hand on both their fellow title chasers.
The result was harsh on eighth-placed Southampton who were threatening going forward before they conceded the two quick goals after leading scorer Rodriguez fell awkwardly on his right leg, forcing him to leave the pitch on a stretcher and putting his outside hopes of making England manager Roy Hodgson’s World Cup 23-man squad in doubt.
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“I don’t remember Joe Hart making an important save,” City manager Manuel Pellegrini told BT Sport after the match.
“They had possession but no real chances to score.
“Now we have an important game against Liverpool. We shall see what happens, there is a lot of time to prepare. I don’t think that game will decide the Premier League.”
Southampton found themselves on the back foot immediately after Jose Fonte brought down striker Dzeko after three minutes, with Ivorian Toure converting his sixth penalty from six attempts this season for his 18th goal overall.
They were nearly two up moments later when Saints keeper Paulo Gazzaniga, between the posts for the injured Artur Boruc, made a poor clearance that allowed the hosts to gain possession, giving Nasri the chance to hit a first-time shot inches wide of the post.
Southampton, one of this season’s surprise packages, slowly fought their way back into the match through their England core, with Rodriguez, Adam Lallana and Lambert, all pushing for a spot in Hodgson’s reckoning for Brazil, coming to the fore on the back of good wide play by Luke Shaw and Calum Chambers.
They suffered a major blow after 23 minutes, however, when one-England-cap forward Rodriguez fell awkwardly on his right leg while attempting to control a high ball, forcing him to leave the pitch in obvious distress.
The Saints did not let the disappointment affect them, and drew level through a penalty to Lambert, his 11th goal of the season, after Jack Cork was felled by Pablo Zabaleta on 36 minutes.
The visitor looked like they would reach the break deservedly level, but instead let their good work go to waste by allowing City to wrestle back control with two late strikes.
First, Frenchman Nasri sidefooted the ball home after Toure had released David Silva, despite suggestions the Spaniard was offside. In the fourth minute of added time owing to Rodriguez’s injury, Dzeko headed into an empty net after Gazzaniga missed Aleksandar Kolarov’s cross.
Silva continued to dominate proceedings after the break, while Bosnian Dzeko missed two decent opportunities to further extend City’s lead, hitting one shot straight at Gazzaniga when Toure was unmarked in front of an open goal, and then sending the rebound out for a throw in after shooting from close range.
Lambert flashed a shot past Joe Hart’s left post, but substitute Jovetic added a final flourish for City, scoring a simple goal after Jesus Navas’ cross evaded the poor Gazzaniga.
Southampton manager Mauricio Pochettino said the failure to rule out the second goal for offside “killed” the game.
“This action from the linesman for the second goal killed the game, the linesman killed the game,” he told BT Sport.
“It’s clear that the second goal changed it. We were superior up that point, we can analyse the game to that point but there is no point after that. It just killed off the game.”