Manchester - David Silva trebled his goal output for the season by scoring twice as defending Premier League champions Manchester City beat Fulham 2-0 at the Etihad Stadium on Saturday.
The victory cut the lead currently held by first-place Manchester United to four points, although City's neighbours and chief rivals hold a game in hand with a visit to Tottenham Hotspur scheduled to take place on Sunday.
City manager Roberto Mancini will nonetheless draw great satisfaction from the victory, which saw Silva return to the sort of form that has made him one of the league's most feared forward players over the past two seasons.
The Spanish international's only other league goal from his 17 starts this season had come in a 5-0 victory over Aston Villa in November, but the confidence with which he claimed his goals against Fulham suggests he is back to his best.
Given City's record in games in which they have taken the lead this season -- 11 wins, one draw -- the outcome of the match was effectively settled, thanks to Silva, within two minutes of kick-off.
The goal stemmed from a poor pass by Fulham's Ashkan Dejagah, which was intercepted by James Milner, who, in turn, found Edin Dzeko.
The Bosnian's thunderous drive from the edge of the area was parried by Mark Schwarzer directly into the path of Silva for a simple conversion from eight yards.
City, however, soon discovered that killing off the game was not going to be a straightforward task.
Pablo Zabaleta might have snatched a second goal soon after but could not control Gael Clichy's far-post cross and Dzeko headed into Schwarzer's arms from six yards after meeting Silva's centre.
Fulham, having weathered the early City storm, gradually began to gain a foothold in the game, mostly thanks to the hosts allowing them to pepper their penalty area with crosses.
One of them, from Damien Duff just after the half hour, was met by Steve Sidwell, who out-jumped Zabaleta but failed to get solid contact on his effort, heading against the outside of the City post.
Dzeko had one more attempt to extend City's cushion, in first-half injury time, swinging at a pull-back from Carlos Tevez and sending his shot curling over the goal.
Tevez continued to cause problems for Fulham upon the restart and Sidwell was required to make an impressive covering tackle to stop a long, powerful run from the Argentinian.
Dzeko wasted another decent opportunity, after Vincent Kompany had headed on a Silva corner, steering his shot directly at Schwarzer from only six yards.
Silva gave his team-mate a small lesson in the art of finishing after 68 minutes, however, with a goal that put the game's outcome beyond any lingering doubt.
It was a well-crafted goal as Clichy's pass from the left wing was helped into Silva's path by a neat Tevez back-heel and the Spaniard surged towards goal before lifting his shot over the onrushing Schwarzer.
Silva might have claimed a hat-trick just a minute later when he was played through by a pass from substitute Samir Nasri but, on this occasion, he showed a rare miscalculation and rolled a shot inches wide of the far post.
Dzeko was profligate yet again, shooting way over at the end of good play from substitute Sergio Aguero and Silva, while Aguero, back from a hamstring injury, went close on at least two occasions as City coasted.
A forgettable performance from Dzeko was summed up in injury time when he somehow missed the target altogether from six yards from a Nasri through ball.