SOUTHAMPTON, England (AP) — Second-half goals from Yaya Toure, Frank Lampard and Gael Clichy gave 10-man Manchester City a 3-0 victory against Southampton in the Premier League at St. Mary's on Sunday.
Despite the emphatic nature of the scoreline, City was made to work hard for victory without ever being truly threatened by Southampton, which started the game second in the table after securing eight wins from 12 matches to start the season.
But its encounter with the Premier League champion starts a challenging run of fixtures for Ronald Koeman's team.
Next up for Southampton it's Arsenal and Manchester United, with games against Everton and Chelsea following in December and the Southampton manager said his side was shown how good they need to be to maintain their impressive form for the entire season.
"If I look at my players, two or three reached the level of what they can show," Koeman said. "It was not good enough today. They showed us the difference. Chelsea and Manchester City are the two strongest teams in the Premier League. You have to be good to get a result and we were not good enough."
City started the game with greater attacking intent, and should have had a penalty in controversial circumstances after nine minutes.
As Sergio Aguero weaved into the penalty area, Southampton captain Jose Fonte slid recklessly into the City attacker and sent him tumbling. However, referee Mike Jones booked Aguero for diving rather than pointing to the penalty spot.
Television replays suggested that was the wrong decision, explaining why Aguero was incredulous at being booked.
"The referee made a mistake," City manager Manuel Pellegrini said. "I was absolutely sure that Sergio never dived. He does not try to cheat the referee."
City controlled the first 20 minutes but it was Southampton that should have taken the lead with its first notable attempt at Joe Hart's goal.
The England keeper parried Graziano Pelle's flick from a deep cross before diving low to his right to palm away the rebound from Steven Davis and rising quickly again to smother any opportunity Dusan Tadic could have had from a narrow angle.
But the home side was fortunate not to fall behind on the half-hour mark when Stevan Jovetic struck at goal following a swift City counter attack. The ball somehow found its way through the legs of Fraser Forster, but defender Toby Alderweireld rushed behind his goalkeeper and cleared the shot off the line.
The second half began in the same attacking manner that inexplicably yielded a goalless opening 45.
Alderweireld and Tadic both went close from long range for Southampton, before Aguero drifted into Southampton's penalty area and laid the ball off to Toure to fire a low, deflected shot past Forster in the 51st.
City looked to consolidate its position almost immediately by replacing Jovetic with James Milner and it appeared to be more comfortable for it, stifling Southampton's attacking energy and enjoying more possession in the opposition's half.
But in the 74th the game turned.
Jesus Navas blazed across goal from inside the area after seizing upon a loose pass from Victor Wanyama, and Southampton launched a quick attack, which was abruptly ended when Eliaquim Mangala barged over substitute Shane Long.
The defender had earlier been booked for a foul on Tadic, and referee Jones duly showed him his second yellow, leaving City with ten men.
But Southampton barely had time to make the extra man count.
Koeman's side poured forward searching for a leveller when in the 80th, City launched a counter attack through Milner, who picked out fellow substitute Frank Lampard to fire clinically beyond Forster from the edge of the area to make the three points safe.
Southampton still searched for a goal to get back into the game, but that approach played into City's plan to hit the opposition on the counter.
As another Southampton attack faded into City's stern defense, Aguero picked up possession and raced down the left before threading an enticing ball across the six yard area for Clichy to convert.
"I'm very pleased because I think we beat a strong team," Pellegrini said. "Southampton have the best defense in the Premier League and also they attack very well."