Sergio Aguero's 23rd goal of the season helped Manchester City reclaim third place in the Premier League thanks to a comfortable 2-0 win at struggling Sunderland on Sunday.
A fifth goal in three games from the in-form Argentina international, whose future at the club has been clouded by the recent impact of the now injured Gabriel Jesus, paved the way for City's seventh victory in eight unbeaten games.
The win left Pep Guardiola's side a point behind second-placed Tottenham Hotspur and eight adrift of leaders Chelsea.
Not for the first time, Aguero's finishing instincts in front of goal embellished what was never more than a workmanlike display against Sunderland.
City's top scorer was denied a late second goal by keeper Jordan Pickford after Leroy Sane put the result beyond doubt by doubling his side's advantage just before the hour when the German midfielder rounded-off a counter-attack to score for the third consecutive game.
Sunderland's problems continued as they stretched their unwanted league run to just one victory in 10, a sequence which has seen them take just five points from the last possible 30 to leave them six points adrift of safety going into the final 10 games of the season.
Aguero struck at the end of a first half where the hosts carved out the better openings, but were made to pay for failing to take their chances.
Three minutes of the opening period remained when Yaya Toure broke from the Sunderland half to feed David Silva, whose ball found Raheem Sterling wide on the right. The winger's deflected low cross should have been cleared, but Aguero beat his marker, Lamine Kone, to the ball to send a deft first-time touch into the net at Pickford's near post.
- Unlucky Defoe -
Silva thought he had doubled the lead in added time, but the Spaniard's close-range effort was correctly ruled offside. David Moyes's side had done enough to go in at least level and were unfortunate when Jermain Defoe struck the post from distance mid-way through the half.
The former England forward's shot on the turn from 20 yards beat keeper Willy Caballero, only to bounce back off the woodwork with Fabio Borini unable to keep his effort on target from the rebound.
Sunderland's main threat was at set-pieces, with defender Billy Jones twice going close with headers near half-time.
Jones forced a low save from Caballero when he met Adnan Januzaj's corner and then, from a Seb Larsson delivery, the full-back showed why he has not scored for almost 17 months as he headed inches wide when allowed to jump unopposed six yards out.
Aguero's deadlock-breaking effort -- his fifth goal in as many games against the Wearsiders -- ensured Sunderland were made to rue such profligacy in front of goal as the South American continues to fill the goal-scoring void left by the injury to Jesus.
Silva almost put the visitors ahead shortly before Aguero's latest clinical finish, when the Spaniard, in front of an unguarded goal, narrowly failed to reach Sane's low cross at the culmination of another Toure-inspired move.
Sane, however, went from provider to goalscorer 14 minutes into the second half to kill the game as a contest.
Sterling's pass released Silva from the half-way line to exploit the time and space afforded him by the Sunderland defence. He played a perfectly-weighted through ball for Sane to outpace the labouring Jones before beating Pickford with a low angled drive from 12 yards which found the net via the keeper's left-hand post.
Defoe had a late effort ruled out for offside, and Caballero saved from Seb Larsson and Kone in the space of 60 seconds to help seal a third league clean sheet in four appearances since the Spaniard replaced Claudio Bravo in goal.
It cemented a fifth straight league victory for City, their best run since they opened the campaign with six consecutive wins.