City stroll adds to Rovers' woes
Mario Balotelli, Sergio Aguero and Edin Dzeko scored the goals as Manchester City maintained their imperious home form to move five-points clear of Manchester United at the Premier League summit with a 3-0 win over Blackburn Rovers.
City have now won their last 18 Premier League games at home, dating back more than a year, and equal Newcastle United's record of starting a season by winning each of their 13 home matches.
Balotelli put Roberto Mancini's side in front with his ninth Premier League goal of the season with just under half an hour gone. Aguero added a second with his 16th, and 21st in all competitions, just after half-time. Dzeko then came off the bench to head in a third as City coasted to a comfortable victory that moves them further ahead of United, who have an away game at Norwich City tomorrow.
The result left Blackburn firmly rooted in the relegation zone, where only two points separate the bottom five.
Balotelli was making his first Premier League start since the goalless draw at West Bromwich Albion in December following a four-match ban. But he took just a minute to cause Blackburn problems, latching on to an Adam Johnson cross and forcing an impressive low save from Rovers goalkeeper Paul Robinson.
Rovers went into the game having lost just half of their 12 away matches and soon produced a threat of their own when a Morten Gamst Pedersen free-kick fell for Grant Hanley and his close-range effort deflected wide off Joleon Lescott.
The visitors were pinned back deep into their own half and were grateful to goalkeeper Robinson for keeping them in the game. When Aguero swung a pass over to the right flank, Johnson burst forward and had a long-range strike pushed away by the former England goalkeeper and Robinson also got a hand to the Pablo Zabaleta cross that followed.
As City continued to probe, Balotelli had a bending free-kick pushed away by the Rovers goalkeeper. But just before the half-hour, Balotelli made the breakthrough in some style.
Making his first Premier League appearance since returning from CAF Africa Cup of Nations duty with Côte d’Ivoire, Yaya Toure started a counter-attack with a clever pass to David Silva. The Spaniard clipped the ball left for Aleksander Kolarov, who whipped in a cross that gave Balotelli an easy tap in at the near post.
The Italian striker displayed a "Raffaella ti amo" t-shirt, aimed at girlfriend Raffaella Fico as he celebrated his opening effort.
City continued to press for a second goal, and Robinson had to be at his best to deny Silva, who was played through by another intelligent pass from Kolarov. Robinson pulled off another fine stop from a Vincent Kompany flick from Kolarov's corner before Toure failed to divert the rebound on target.
Argentinian forward Aguero also failed to take two opportunities just before the break, lifting well over the bar and also missing from a narrow angle.
The pattern continued after the break, with Johnson having a low effort deflected wide of goal. But from the Silva corner that followed, Robinson flailed at the ball and Aguero stabbed in City's second. Even Zabaleta was attempting to score and the Argentinian defender saw his effort fly sideways straight into Aguero and wide of goal.
As Blackburn attempted some sort of response, Canadian winger Junior Hoilett broke forward and shot only to see his effort bounce away off Yakubu. Balotelli had a header deflected off-target by Bradley Orr, but City seemed satisfied with their margin of victory.
With just under ten minutes left, Dzeko beat two Blackburn defenders to thump Kolarov's cross past Robinson. Yakubu finally forced a save from Joe Hart deep in injury time, but it was a comfortable outing for the leaders.