Manchester City took over at the top of the Premier League table on Saturday but only after weathering heavy pressure from Crystal Palace in a narrow 1-0 home victory.
Having described the English festive fixture schedule as “not normal”, City manager Manuel Pellegrini made six changes to his side and Palace almost took full advantage at the Etihad Stadium.
City goalkeeper Joe Hart was left with an ugly cut beneath his left eye after saving at the feet of Cameron Jerome in the first half and it was to mark the start of a frantic afternoon for the England man. He saved brilliantly from Jason Puncheon and Mile Jedinak, while Marouane Chamakh headed wide from eight yards out as Palace looked to continue their impressive recent form under new manager Tony Pulis.
With half an hour remaining, Pellegrini sent on Samir Nasri and Alvaro Negredo, and in the 66th minute the hosts made the breakthrough when Edin Dzeko slammed home from Jesus Navas’s cut-back.
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Hart’s work was not finished, however, and he had to produce another fine stop to deny Joel Ward before City could celebrate their ninth consecutive home success this season.
Victory took City two points above previous leaders Arsenal, who visit Newcastle United on Sunday. On Sunday, Everton host Southampton while third-place Chelsea tackle fourth-place Liverpool at Stamford Bridge.
Elsewhere in the Premier League, Aston Villa were held to a 1-1 draw by Swansea City. Roland Lamah cancelled out Gabriel Agbonlahor’s seventh-minute opener with a back-post header nine minutes before half-time.