Manchester City down Wigan
Wigan - Manchester City gave manager Roberto Mancini a belated birthday present on Wednesday as they won 2-0 away to Wigan to maintain the defence of their Premier League title.
Second-half goals from Mario Balotelli and James Milner ensured Mancini, 48 on Tuesday, kept the pressure on neighbours and leaders Manchester United, the visitors at Eastlands on December 9.
Wigan were at least their equals until then, but have now gone six games against City without scoring after looking for a long time as if they would earn the draw.
As it was, City's win left the champions just a point behind United.
Franco di Santo launched Wigan on the offensive from the start, feeding Arouna Kone to fire in a shot that Joe Hart saved only at the second attempt.
Then Jordi Gomez, Wigan's hat-trick star against Reading, played Jean Beausejour in on the left for a cross just too deep to really worry Hart.
At the other end, City striker Sergio Aguero cut in and had alarm bells ringing only for his fierce shot to billow the side-netting.
Maynor Figueroa did well to eliminate the next scare after Aguero cleverly worked a half-chance for Zabaleta after a bout of neat passing opened up Wigan.
City suffered a scare of a different kind when a di Santo cross caught Maicon in the throat from close range and the defender collapsed.
His frantic signals brought the medical team sprinting out but thankfully they were soon able to have the shaken Brazilian back on his feet.
Wigan were ever prepared to take the game to the champions and City skipper Vincent Kompany was relieved to block Beausejour's shot.
Aguero, whose goals shot City to the title last season, still hadn't adjusted his sights when he smacked a speculative effort wide from outside the box.
But Adrian Lopez had to come up with a crucial penalty-area tackle after Figueroa's miscued header left Aguero to race away for the kind of one-on-one with Ali Al Habsi he thrives on.
But before the Argentine could pull the trigger, Lopez sprinted across to put in a perfect challenge that earned a hearty slap on the back from his keeper.
Wigan fans have not always appreciated Gomez's skills, much to manager Roberto Martinez's disappointment, but he's grown on them since hitting his weekend hat-trick.
After Aguero sent him tumbling from behind, Gomez dusted himself off to curl the 30-yard free kick inches over the angle with Hart beaten.
City have yet to hit the heights of last season, and again the players who they look to make things happen, like David Silva and Yaya Toure, were subdued.
They might even have gone in at half-time trailing after Gomez ended up on the penalty area turf under challenge from the harrying Pablo Zabaleta.
TV replays showed contact but the Wigan player probably went down a little too easily -- referee Mark Halsey was certainly not convinced.
A minute later Gomez became the first booking of the night after a clumsy lunge at Gareth Barry on the touchline.
Balotelli had not enjoyed a productive match, and when Maicon did launch a superb cross from the left to find the Italian at the far post, his header was poor.
But the controversial striker was in the right place after 69 minutes when Barry's fierce shot was spilled by Al Habsi and, after his first effort was blocked by the keeper, Balotelli firmly dispatched the second.
Two minutes later City were virtually home and dry as substitute James Milner - on for the lacklustre Aguero - was set up by Barry just outside the area and hit an unstoppable curling shot past Al Habsi.