Yaya Toure leads City past Stoke
After two league games without a win and a loss to Barcelona midweek, City was facing more frustration at the hands of former manager Mark Hughes until Toure struck in the 70th minute.
Stoke had the better of the first half at the Etihad Stadium but City finished strongly and would have won by more had Edin Dzeko not produced a remarkable miss. Dzeko failed to make a clean connection when picked out unmarked, with an open goal, two yards out.
But third-placed City, without another league game until March 15, ensured it remains three points behind leader Chelsea with a game in hand.
Manuel Pellegrini's side will have to improve it if wants to win the title, having been sluggish in the first half and struggling to piece together meaningful attacks.
That Samir Nasri, who did not start against Barcelona, was one of City's brighter players added to a feeling that Tuesday's high-intensity game must have taken its toll.
Pellegrini, who kept faith with much-maligned defender Martin Demichelis after his red card in the 2-0 first-leg loss to Barcelona, had demanded a high-tempo start.
That failed to materialize and it was Stoke, playing its first game in 10 days and fresh from a training camp in Dubai, who looked the better side.
Peter Crouch headed wide, Glenn Whelan shot straight at Joe Hart from distance, while Jonathan Walters blasted wide and Charlie Adam forced the goalkeeper into a fine low save.
City finally started to assert itself as halftime approached as Toure combined nicely with Alvaro Negredo before blasting over.
Negredo was then involved again, playing a neat one-two to tee up Dzeko outside the box and the Bosnian only narrowly missed the target.
Fernandinho then rifled a shot at Asmir Begovic as City looked to carry some momentum into the second half.
City did show more urgency after the restart but Stoke defended well.
Pellegrini hoped the introduction of Stevan Jovetic just before the hour might provide the spark.
The Montenegro striker tried to score from outside the box but Begovic grabbed at the second attempt.
But City made sure the pressure told. Nasri came into the middle and fed Aleksandar Kolarov out wide. He immediately whipped the ball into the middle and Toure, who had been driving forward at every opportunity, got in front of a defender to divert the ball past Begovic.
The relief around the stadium was evident and Dzeko should immediately have doubled the lead but he missed an open goal after Jesus Navas pulled the ball across goal.
Stoke cleared and Dzeko, furious with himself, kicked out at the post in anger. His embarrassment did not end there as his extraordinary miss was replayed a number of times on the big screen.
City remained on the front foot though and Begovic tipped around a shot from Javi Garcia.
Toure had another shot blocked by Erik Pieters but Stoke almost snatched a late equalizer as former City midfielder Stephen Ireland volleyed wide.