David Silva came to the rescue of a strikerless Manchester City with two goals in a 3-0 victory over Crystal Palace that drew them level on points with Chelsea at the top of the Premier League on Saturday.
Silva eased an increasingly tense atmosphere at the Etihad Stadium when he broke the deadlock shortly after halftime and put an efficient victory to bed with his second goal shortly afterwards. Yaya Toure emphatically smashed home a late third.
The victory moved City level on 39 points with Chelsea, who face Stoke City on Monday, and added spice to a title race that only recently had looked to be a one-horse race.
Champions City had trailed Chelsea by eight points in November, but have cranked into gear heading into the busy festive period, taking 22 points from a possible 24 in their last eight games.
Palace, who were resilient opponents until City took the lead and had what looked a good goal chalked off for offside when trailing 2-0, are one point above the relegation zone.
City's injury woes
For Manchester City's billionaire owners who have lavished funds on the team since their arrival, the sight of workhorse midfielder James Milner playing up front on his own may have prompted quizzical looks.
Such are City's injury woes, however, that boss Manuel Pellegrini was left with no fit strikers to choose from, and handed Milner the task of occupying Palace's defenders with his industry.
It looked a largely fruitless tactic in a first half when the nearest City came to breaking the deadlock was a scooped effort from Pablo Zabaleta that bobbled wide, but the mounting tension was eased four minutes into the second half.
Zabaleta made a powerful burst into the area and cut the ball back for Silva, whose shot took a big deflection off a Palace defender before looping into the net.
‘It was a very good win’
City, who failed to have a shot on target in the first half, then looked a completely different animal and found a second goal 12 minutes later as Silva arrived at the near post to finish sharply with his left foot.
Palace should have reduced the deficit when James McArthur headed in a Yannick Bolasie cross, but was wrongly flagged for offside, prompting the visitors' outspoken manager to describe the decision as ‘diabolical’.
Toure ensured there would be no more nervous moments when he charged forward and walloped in a powerful finish, leaving Pellegrini to sing the praises of a team shorn of attacking options.
"It was a very good win," he told BT Sport. "A very good performance. I enjoyed the way the team worked the whole week, to work in a different way without strikers."
Falcao cancels Benteke's goal
Manchester United's pursuit of the table-toppers stalled with a 1-1 draw at Aston Villa, their first dropped points in seven games, as local rivals City came through an encounter with Palace that threatened to turn into a frustrating occasion.
United dominated possession but fell behind to Aston Villa’s Christian Benteke's superb left-foot strike before Radamel Falcao headed them level after the break.
United are seven points adrift and one in front of a West Ham United side who will occupy a coveted top four spot at Christmas after a 2-0 home win over bottom club Leicester City.
Southampton's woes were forgotten as they beat Everton 3-0 after four straight league defeats, while Tottenham Hotspur kept up their pursuit of a top-four spot with a 2-1 home win against Burnley to move above Arsenal, who visit Liverpool on Sunday.
Queens Park Rangers striker Charlie Austin scored a superb hat-trick as they fought back from 2-0 down to win 3-2 at home to West Bromwich Albion, but second-bottom Hull City's troubles continued with a 1-0 home defeat by Swansea City.