Manchester City kept their faint hopes alive of retaining their Premier League title as Carlos Tevez's first half goal ensured victory over Aston Villa, who remain in the relegation zone, at Villa Park.
Substitute Edin Dzeko captailised on a slip by Ciaran Clark to find strike-partner Tevez, who rounded Brad Guzan before slotting home to cut Manchester United's lead at the top to 12 points with 10 games left.
Christian Benteke had earlier seen a header cleared off the line by the Argentine while Ashley Westwood's long-range strike, which flew wide of Joe Hart's goal, was the closest a lackluster Villa came after the break as Paul Lambert's side suffered their seventh home league defeat of the season.
The result leaves the Villans level on points with Wigan Athletic, but in the bottom three on goal difference as a first campaign in the second tier of English football for 36 years becomes a greater reality.
For City, who saw leaders United warm-up for their Champions League last 16 tie against Real Madrid on Tuesday by defeating Norwich City, the victory means they remain mathematically in the race for the championship, with a performance far removed from the style which accompanied their title win last season.
Indeed should City fulfill the prophecy of their manger Roberto Mancini, who says his side must win all their remaining league matches, they will require a greater deal of cutting edge in the closing weeks of the season.
The were indebted to Tevez in the first half as Benteke rose highest from Charles N'Zogbia' out swinging corner, with the ex-West Ham United forward well placed to smash clear to safety.
After Guzan had saved well from Pablo Zabaleta and Jack Rodwell, who was later substituted with another hamstring complaint, his replacement Dzeko helped set up the eventual winner on the stroke of half-time.
Clark was caught in possession 25 yards from goal by the Bosnian, and after finding Tevez, the diminutive South American weaved his way past a stranded Guzan to tuck into the corner.
The second half saw only a brief Villa repost, Westwood smashing wide from range but a lack of invention in the closing minutes, with Benteke the focal point of seemingly every attack, allowed City to see out the win in comfortable fashion.
The win might not result in a comeback in the title race akin to last season for City, but it extends their advantage over third place Tottenham Hotspur to five points, and goes a long-way to avoiding the ignominy of falling further behind their local rivals.
Meanwhile Villa, who face fellow strugglers Reading and Queens Park Rangers in the coming weeks, will have to rouse themselves for an end of season run-in where fears over relegation are unlikely to shift.
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