MANCHESTER: Manchester City claimed a sixth successive Premier League win as they beat Aston Villa 2-0 in a pulsating clash at the Etihad Stadium, moving top of the table for a couple of hours before Manchester United reclaimed the summit later on Wednesday.
It was a deserved win for City although their opener, scored by Bernardo Silva in the 79th minute, was controversial and angered Villa boss Dean Smith whose protest saw him red-carded.
City moved to 38 points, above Leicester City on goal difference, but United's 2-1 win at Fulham lifted them up to 40 points, although they have played a game more than City.
After both sides had created plenty of openings and Joao Cancelo struck the bar for City, Bernardo Silva provided the breakthrough with a brilliant left-footed finish after Rodri had robbed Villa defender Tyrone Mings.
Rodri had come back into play from an offside position before taking the ball off Mings and Villa manager Smith was sent off for his protests at the referee.
"It was a farcical decision. I've not seen a goal like that given. It needs to be looked at. I don't think anyone in this stadium thought it was a goal," said Smith.
The Professional Game Match Officials Limited (PGMOL) later clarified the rule, stating that because Mings had deliberately played the ball off his chest, Rodri, despite being in an offside position, had legitimately taken the ball.
Mings later said on Twitter that he was bemused by the decision.
"Never even heard of that rule, just let players stand offside, then run back & tackle you? In hindsight I should’ve cleared it, 100%, but didn’t even know that was the case. Nonsense," Mings said.
Ilkay Gundogan made sure of the three points with a 90th-minute penalty after a header from Gabriel Jesus struck Matty Cash's arm in the box.
City have now won nine straight games in all competitions as part of an unbeaten run stretching back 16 games.
Villa, who are 11th, had defended well and played enterprising football on the break in what was their first league match since New Years Day after a COVID-19 outbreak at the club had caused their games to be postponed.
John McGinn could have given Villa the lead just before Silva's strike but mis-kicked inside the box after a clever lay-off from Jack Grealish.
City manager Pep Guardiola was delighted that his side continued their surge after being made to work hard.
"Noone else has won five, six in a row but it's still the first leg of the season. A lot of games to go but the important thing is that the feeling is good," he said.
"It was a very good performance again, against a top side. They are very dangerous and just look at their results this season. A big victory," added the Spaniard.
Smith, who also disputed the penalty decision, said his team's time in COVID isolation had been difficult but added some perspective.
"It's been tough but much tougher for other people across the country, so it's not too hard for my lads to do 10 days in isolation when some people have done it for nine months."