Manchester City moved back to the top of the Premier League as Joleon Lescott’s goal clinched a hard-fought 1-0 win over Aston Villa on Sunday.
Roberto Mancini’s side had surrendered pole position to Manchester United after their bitter rivals’ 2-1 win against Liverpool on Saturday, but City underlined their determination to wrestle the title from Old Trafford with a gritty victory in freezing temperatures at Villa Park.
Lescott struck midway through the second half to lift City two points clear of United, while Villa are down to 15th place after their fifth defeat in their past seven home matches.
“This was a difficult game. We knew it would be, but the guys played fantastic,” Mancini said. “In the first half we played fantastic football, missing only a goal. Villa defended very well in the second half, but we got the goal. Joleon played a fantastic game.”
City dominated for long spells and England winger Adam Johnson went closest to breaking the deadlock in the first half when his long-range effort hit the post.
Mancini’s men had won just one of their last six away games, but they ended that barren sequence thanks to Lescott’s predatory effort in the 63rd minute.
Former Villa midfielder Gareth Barry headed David Silva’s corner back across goal from the far post toward England defender Lescott, who kept his balance to direct his hooked shot past Villa goalkeeper Shay Given.
Villa almost snatched a late equalizer, but Joe Hart made a superb save to deny Darren Bent from close range.
Earlier on Sunday, West Bromwich Albion piled on the misery for struggling Wolverhampton Wanderers as Peter Odemwingie’s hat-trick inspired a 5-1 thrashing of their local rivals in the Black Country derby at Molineux.
That defeat led to Wolves sacking manager Mick McCarthy yesterday, a day after they slipped back into the bottom three.
McCarthy, 53, was appointed Wolves manager in July 2006, winning promotion to the Premier League in 2009, but he has lost his job following Wolves’ fourth successive home league defeat.
In a statement on Wolves’ Web site, the club said it was “a difficult decision to terminate Mick’s contract,” but that assistant Terry Connor would take charge of training until a new manager is appointed.
Roy Hodgson’s West Brom took the lead in the 34th minute when Nigerian striker Odemwingie sent in a tame shot from the edge of the area which trickled through goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey’s weak attempted save.
Wolves equalized against the run of play through Scotland forward Steven Fletcher, who fired home from just inside the area on the stroke of halftime.
Albion regained the advantage in the 64th minute when defender Jonas Olsson fired goalwards. Hennessy should have saved easily, but he allowed the shot to squirm over the line.
Odemwingie got the third in the 77th minute when he hooked in from close range and former Wolves midfielder Keith Andrews rubbed salt into the wounds when his shot deflected home in the 85th minute.
Odemwingie sealed Albion’s biggest win at their hated rivals’ home since 1962 when he finished off a flowing counterattack in the 88th minute.
Sunday’s defeat means Wolves have picked up only one point from their last six home matches and they have won only once in their last 13 matches in all competitions.
McCarthy apologized to the Wolves fans afterwards.