Manchester City 4-1 Aston Villa

By David OrnsteinBBC Sport
Mario Balotelli puts Manchester City ahead against Aston villa
Balotelli scored his fourth goal in as many games in all competitions

Manchester City took advantage of Manchester United's draw at Liverpool to move top of the Premier League with a comfortable victory over Aston Villa.

City keeper Joe Hart saved well from Gabriel Agbonlahor early on before Mario Balotelli scored with a superb overhead kick to put his side in front.

A Stephen Warnock error let Adam Johnson slot in and Vincent Kompany then headed home Johnson's corner.

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Warnock pulled one back but James Milner curled a fine fourth.

The former Villa midfielder refused to celebrate his goal but City's fans certainly did, fully away that it took their team two points clear of local rivals Manchester United at the summit.

By the time this match started, in the early kick-off and the pressure was on City to capitalise.

And they did exactly that with a seventh win in eight games this season and an 11th in 12 against previously-unbeaten Villa.

Roberto Mancini left David Silva, Edin Dzeko and Samir Nasri on the bench, so Balotelli was the lone striker in a 4-5-1 formation.

That left the hosts - also without the injured Sergio Aguero - looking thin for attacking options early on and they struggled to unpick Villa's well-organised back four.

In fact, Villa should have taken the lead when Agbonlahor shrugged Joleon Lescott aside on the left touchline and burst into the box. Hart spread himself and Warnock's follow-up was deflected wide.

A let-off for City, indeed, but it proved to be Villa's only chance of the half and they were soon punished by Balotelli's brilliance.

The Italian saw one shot skim the post via a Milner flick and another palmed to safety before striking at the third time of asking.

Villa failed to clear a Johnson corner and after the ball was controlled by Micah Richards, Balotelli acrobatically delivered his fourth goal in four games.

City seemed content to sit on their advantage until the break and then pushed on again at the start of the second half.

However, the doubling of their lead was all to do with a woeful piece of Villa defending.

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Yaya Toure sent over a hopeful cross-field pass that Warnock attempted to clear with a bicycle kick, only to calamitously set Johnson up for a low finish past Given.

Warnock hung his head in shame but Villa's afternoon swiftly took another turn for the worse as Kompany easily headed home from Johnson's corner.

A momentary lapse of concentration from City gave Villa hope of an unlikely comeback, Agbonlahor's cross finding its way to the back post and Warnock firing in off the bar.

That was the first home goal City had conceded in the Premier League this season, but they were quick to reassert their authority with an excellent fourth.

Milner found Johnson with a majestic cross-field ball, advanced to the edge of the box, took the return pass in his stride and bent home a delightful first-time finish.

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