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David Silva sinks struggling Stoke

 

Two unanswered David Silva goals coming early in each half extended City’s lead at the top of the table to 16 points.

It could, perhaps should have been more as the in-form Leroy Sané and the returning Raheem Sterling ran their host ragged at times, but Guardiola’s squad will now spend the international break knowing they are on the verge of something special.

Victory in their next league fixture, at Goodison Park at the end of the month, and the crown will then be there for the taking in the Manchester derby at the Etihad on 7 April. There would be no sweeter way to win it.

The night began with a goal as slick and sophisticated as any City have scored this season and Sterling, on his first appearance since returning from a hamstring injury, played a major part in it.

Nine minutes in, the winger played an exquisite one-two with Gabriel Jesus that slipped him in behind the Stoke line. His low, drilled cross into the penalty area was weighted perfectly for Silva, who finished past Jack Butland at the first time of asking.

If there was to be a response from the relegation battlers, it was likely to come through the talents of their talisman Xherdan Shaqiri, who found himself up against not only but a raw and unversed youngster but a makeshift left back in Oleksandr Zinchenko.

Having intercepted one of the Ukrainian’s slack passes to initiate a Stoke counter, Shaqiri then nutmegged his marker and crossed from the byline to Badou N’Diaye, but the January signing from Galatasaray could only drag a deflected effort wide.

Stoke would come again though and, shortly after Jesus failed to head a Kevin De Bruyne free kick home from close range, Lambert’s side almost made their guests pay for their wastefulness.

One long kick out of the back by Butland was misjudged by Vincent Kompany, whose error released Jese Rodriguez through. Kyle Walker nipped in to cover but his intervention only sent the ball looping towards goal and an alert, back-pedalling Ederson just about managed to tip it over.

Such moments of optimism were few and far between for Stoke though, whose share of the ball hovered around the 20 per cent mark for much of the evening, and their task became twice as difficult when the second half started in the same manner as the first.

Five minutes after the restart, another fine piece of interplay resulted in another clinical finish. Sterling’s industrious work in middle of the park started the move and again Silva finished it, playing a one-two with Jesus before guiding the glorious, lofted return pass around Butland and in.

Sterling could have found the goal his performance deserved minutes later with a show of close control that beat Kostas Stafylidis all ends up, evaded Geoff Cameron’s sliding challenge and then brought him within point-blank range, but his shot was blocked by Butland’s legs.

It was time to resort to the dark arts. The home support certainly thought Sterling was guilty of poor sportsmanship when, after City allowed Stoke to win a drop ball, the winger nipped in to tackle N’Diaye and move through on goal one-on-one.

As jeers rang out from all four corners of the bet365 Stadium, Sterling hesitated slightly, allowing N’Diaye to recover and dispossess him as he was about to test Butland. Those jeers were louder still when Sterling was replaced five minutes later.

By that point, Stoke had sent for the cavalry, but a 37-year-old Peter Crouch for the final half hour could not alter the result. From the moment Silva’s first hit the net, City’s victory had seemed certain. Two more will be enough.

 

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