SOUTHAMPTON - Premier League champions Manchester City gave themselves renewed belief that they can hunt down leaders Chelsea after moving into second place in the table by winning 3-0 at Southampton.
Chelsea have been imperious to date this season, but they dropped points in a 0-0 draw at Sunderland on Saturday and City took advantage with an impressive victory at St Mary's a day later.
Second-half goals from Yaya Toure, substitute Frank Lampard and Gael Clichy saw the champions end Southampton's unbeaten home record and City manager Manuel Pellegrini challenged his side to carry their form into Wednesday's away game with Sunderland.
"We have 25 games to play," said the Chilean, whose team trail Chelsea by six points. "It's a lot of points. Nobody knows what happens in the future.
"Chelsea are playing very well. We'll see what happens in the future. And we must try to see what we do against Sunderland." Sergio Aguero had been City's saviour in their mid-week win over Bayern Munich in the Champions League, taking his tally for the season to 17 goals with a hat-trick in a 3-2 success.
The Argentine showcased the altruistic side to his game against Ronald Koeman's Southampton, teeing up Toure to drive home City's 51st-minute opener and then steering a glorious pass into Clichy's path for the visitors' third goal.
His afternoon had started in inauspicious fashion, as he was booked for diving in the ninth minute despite appearing to have been cleaned out by Southampton centre-back Jose Fonte.
Pellegrini commented: "From my position I saw that it was a penalty, but I am not the referee.
"One thing I was absolutely sure about was that Sergio never dived. Sergio is not a player that tries to cheat the referee." - 'Not good enough' - ===================== City lost Eliaquim Mangala in the 74th minute after he was shown a second yellow card for barging over Southampton substitute Shane Long as he raced towards goal, but Pellegrini defended the Frenchman, saying he had committed a "necessary foul".
A hamstring injury to captain Vincent Kompany meant that City finished the game with nine men. The Belgian centre-back is scheduled to undergo tests on Monday.
Southampton matched City in an even first half, with visiting goalkeeper Joe Hart saving twice in quick succession from Graziano Pelle and Steven Davis, but after City made the breakthrough, they ran out of steam.
Koeman conceded that his side, who have made the best start to a Premier League season in the club's history, were initially "a little bit nervous".
But although they are due to visit Arsenal on Wednesday and then entertain Manchester United on December 8, he said it was too early to write off Southampton's chances of a top-four finish.
Asked for his response to those in the media who will dismiss his side's hopes of Champions League qualification, he told his post-match press conference: "They write of today. Because we didn't show something different.
"But if we are the fifth in the league, still we are very happy. On Wednesday we will get a new opportunity to show the qualities. There's no time to be disappointed." However, having seen his team beaten for only the second time in 11 league games, he conceded that they had come up short.
"We knew we had to be good to have a good result today (Sunday), but our ball possession in the beginning of the game was not good," said the former Netherlands international.
"I think we defended well. We had a good organisation. They didn't create a lot of opportunities.
"But when I thought in the second half, 'OK, little by little we'll do a little bit more pressing to try to win the game,' it was 1-0 down. It was not good enough today. That is what I have to say."