LIBREVILLE, Gabon (AP) – Manchester City returned to the top of the Barclays Premier League with a rare away win of late, beating a floundering Aston Villa side whose nightmare home form shows no sign of easing.
City went into the match at Villa Park on the back of just one win in their previous six matches on the road, and after seeing rivals United depose them at the summit on Saturday with their 2-1 win over Liverpool at Old Trafford.
With the pressure on Roberto Mancini's side, Joleon Lescott's 63rd-minute hook shot was enough to see the Eastlands club home, leaving Villa without a home win since November 5.
That is a run of five defeats and two draws, the kind of form that will have Villa nervously looking over their shoulders at the seven-point gap to the relegation zone.
It also further increases the pressure on manager Alex McLeish, who was the subject of a planned protest before kick off.
It was a low-key affair attended by around 100 or so fans, with more looking on, mainly with amusement.
There were a few banners such as 'Had Your Chance McLeish Out' and a few chants along the lines of 'You'll be sacked in the morning'.
That will not happen, of course, but on the evidence of this display you perhaps appreciate the frustration of those supporters at what they are watching these days.
The first half was instantly forgettable from a Villa perspective as McLeish's side mustered one half chance, that a looping header from Richard Dunne in meeting a Stiliyan Petrov free-kick that was comfortably collected by goalkeeper Joe Hart.
Opposite number Shay Given was by far the busier, but even then he was barely extended to any great degree, despite City's dominance.
Appreciably, where Villa did shine was in defence, with central pairing James Collins and Dunne particularly solid in meeting head on the attacking firepower City possess, notably via Sergio Aguero and David Silva.
As early as the third minute the duo signalled their intent, with Silva knocking a tame Collins clearance into the path of Aguero for an edge-of-the-area shot collected by Given at the second attempt.
The Republic of Ireland international again denied Silva in the 19th minute with another save low down after the Spaniard had teased his way into the area.
Given followed that up with a stop from former Villa star Gareth Barry whose shot took a slight deflection off Silva, but was not enough to send him in the wrong direction.
The only time Given was beaten in the first half was when Johnson cracked in a low left-foot shot that ricocheted out of play off the left-hand post.
It proved to be the highlight of a relatively insipid half as Villa lacked any creative spark, and whilst City obviously had the edge, it was not as cutting as has previously proven to be.
Whatever McLeish's words at half time, they inspired, but all too briefly.
Although Villa enjoyed more sustained possession for the opening few minutes than at any time in the first period, they failed to do anything with it.
Instead, it was City who again carved out the first chance of the period, with Silva teeing up Zabaleta for a rocket of an angled shot from 16 yards, but again with Given firmly behind the ball.
Pressure, however, soon began to mount and it finally told in the 63rd minute, with centre-back Lescott scoring his third goal of the season.
It was a goal created in claret and blue as James Milner's inswinging corner to the far post was met by a knock back from Barry into the danger area of the six-yard box for Lescott to delightfully hook home.
It was not until a male streaker appeared in the 75th minute that Villa livened up, twice coming close to an equaliser in the dying moments.
Initially Carlos Cuellaer planted a free header over the bar in meeting a Petrov corner before Hart pulled off a brilliant save to thwart Darren Bent from close range.
But it was too little too late from a Villa perspective as City ultimately returned to winning ways on the road.