LONDON - Manchester City fired the opening shots at the start of a pivotal period in the Premier League title race with a 3-1 victory at bottom club West Ham United on Saturday despite the absence of suspended talisman Carlos Tevez.
Midfield powerhouse Yaya Toure showed City are a potent team even without the dynamic Argentine, scoring the opener and forcing an own goal from keeper Robert Green before substitute Adam Johnson completed a routine victory.
City, who have an easier-looking fixture list over the coming weeks than their main rivals, joined leaders Arsenal on 32 points and are one ahead of Manchester United.
Alan Pardew enjoyed a dream start as manager of Newcastle United with a 3-1 home win over Liverpool which went some way to pacifying fans angry at this week's sacking of Chris Hughton.
Late goals by Joey Barton and Andy Carroll, a venemous left-footer from 25 metres, sealed victory for Newcastle after Kevin Nolan's opener was cancelled out by Dirk Kuyt.
Aston Villa beat West Bromwich Albion 2-1, Blackpool continued their impressive return to the top flight with a 1-0 win at Stoke City and there were no goals in the games between Fulham and Sunderland and Everton and Wigan Athletic.
With the title contenders playing each other over the next two weeks, City's victory at West Ham left the club ideally positioned with almost half the season gone.
Manager Roberto Mancini's expensively assembled side have over relied on Tevez, scorer of nearly half their league goals this season, but at Upton Park they were in cruise control from the moment Toure thumped a shot past Green after 30 minutes.
Mancini has been criticised for a cautious approach this season but assistant Brian Kidd believes the Italian's methods are now beginning to click.
"It speaks volumes we came here today and won," said Kidd, once the right-hand man of Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester United.
"The work Roberto does on the training ground technically and tactically is immense and it's coming to fruition. Now we are producing the results," he told Sky Sports.
"The table looks good but they don't give trophies out in December. We must forget this win and go back home and work towards the next game."
The only blip for City was tights-wearing Mario Balotelli's reaction to being substituted in the second half. The volatile Italian, who missed an early chance, stormed straight down the tunnel without acknowledging the coaching staff.
After his exit Toure made sure the visitors would go home with all the points. The former Barcelona player galloped past a static West Ham defence and his shot rebounded off the post and into the net via the back of Green in the 73rd minute.
Johnson then added a third before James Tomkins scored a consolation for West Ham who are in danger of being bottom of the table at Christmas - a position that usually proves fatal for a club's hopes of staying in the top flight.comments