London: Sergio Aguero created two goals as champions Manchester City leapfrogged Southampton into second place in the Premier League table with a steely 3-0 victory at St Mary`s on Sunday.
Yaya Toure drilled home Aguero`s pass in the 51st minute and although City centre-back Eliaquim Mangala was then sent off, late goals by substitute Frank Lampard and Gael Clichy secured victory for the visitors.
Mangala was shown a second yellow card in the 74th minute after barging over Shane Long, but Lampard and Clichy`s strikes safeguarded an impressive win that took City to within six points of leaders Chelsea.
Following previous wins over Swansea City and Bayern Munich, Manuel Pellegrini`s appear to have rediscovered some self-belief after a run of only one win in six games that began in mid-October.
Victory was not completely without complications, however, as a late injury to Vincent Kompany obliged them to see out the game with nine men.
It was a first home defeat since April for Southampton, who have embarked upon a testing sequence of fixtures that continues with Arsenal`s visit on Wednesday before they host Manchester United a week on Monday.
Aguero had been likened to Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo by both his coach and his team-mates after his match-winning hat-trick against Bayern in mid-week, and he was quickly in the thick of the action on his 100th league appearance for City.
In the ninth minute, he stole into the box and was sent flying by a sliding challenge from Jose Fonte, but although it appeared a clear penalty, referee Mike Jones booked the incredulous Argentine for diving.
City shaded the early exchanges, with Toure curling a shot straight at Fraser Forster from outside the box, but the visitors` goal was fortunate to emerge unscathed mid-way through the first half.
From a Morgan Schneiderlin cross, Graziano Pelle was thwarted by City goalkeeper Joe Hart, who then got down well to parry Steven Davis`s follow-up, and when Dusan Tadic closed in for the second rebound, Kompany intervened.It was then Southampton`s turn to survive a goal-mouth scare, with Toby Alderweireld blocking on the goal-line after Forster had taken the sting out of a shot from the recalled Stevan Jovetic.
But City continued to look vulnerable to the in-swinging cross at the other end, and after Pelle glanced wide from Davis`s left-wing corner, Kompany was grateful to see an anxious back-header settle in Hart`s gloves.
Schneiderlin had to go off with a thigh injury at half-time, with centre-back Maya Yoshida coming on in his place and Alderweireld moving forward into midfield.
Within seconds of the restart, the Dutchman drifted a shot wide from 30 yards, while moments later Tadic sent Hart scrambling across goal with a fierce, low strike that narrowly evaded the left-hand post.
But it was City who broke the deadlock. Aguero gathered a through ball from Fernandinho and tiptoed into the box from the left before teeing up Toure, who crashed a 20-yard shot into the bottom-left corner with the aid of a slight deflection.
City continued to press, Aguero prodding over from Kompany`s flick-on and Jesus Navas arrowing just wide after Victor Wanyama lost the ball, and Mangala`s dismissal did not disturb their momentum.
James Milner and Lampard were primarily sent on to stiffen City`s midfield, but they combined for the second goal in the 80th minute.
Milner found Lampard lurking on the edge of the box and the former Chelsea man thrashed a low shot past a motionless Forster.
An unlikely figure made the game safe in the 88th minute, with Clichy haring downfield to apply an assured finishing touch to Aguero`s delicate outside-of-the-foot pass.