Bournemouth 0 Manchester City 2
This success should probably be considered evidence Manchester City will pose the most credible threat to Chelsea at the top of the Premier League over what remains of this campaign, and an even clearer reminder Sergio Agüero is not quite done yet as their predator in chief.
Pep Guardiola’s team prevailed against a Bournemouth side yet to win this calendar year but who, on this evidence, retain a resilience that will see them clear of trouble. It is on tight occasions such as this that City can still look to Agüero for inspiration.
The substitute had appeared rusty on his introduction here, his bite apparently blunted by a period on the sidelines while this team revelled in Gabriel Jesus' spritely arrival in English football. Yet, with the Brazilian hurt, it had been Agüero darting away from Tyrone Mings midway through the second period to reach Raheem Sterling's low delivery in front of goal.
The striker’s touch from point-blank range cannoned the ball on to his desperate marker and doubled the visitors’ advantage. The Argentinian may still be denied his first league goal since early January given Mings’ late contact, but it mattered not. Chelsea’s lead at the top has been trimmed, marginally, to eight points.
City have made a habit of putting Bournemouth to the sword since their elevation into the top flight but, just as Guardiola had warned it might in the build-up, this was actually proving a proper test of their recent revival.
There was an eagerness to the home side from the outset as the wind swirled around and buffeted the crowd in this tight arena. The home side’s spiky aggression and energetic running initially disrupted everything City mustered.
The Spaniard cut an agitated figure in his technical area for long periods of the first half, beanie hat pulled down against the biting cold and Leroy Sané, as the nearest of his players, bearing the brunt of his frustrations.
Their attacking qualities were never likely to remain quelled for long and by the break they held a narrow lead, but Guardiola had rather growled his way back to the changing-room. None of this had proved comfortable.
Their opening goal had been scored just before the half-hour mark, Sané benefiting from David Silva's slide-rule pass into space before fizzing a low centre into the penalty area which flicked off the unfortunate Steve Cook and evaded Charlie Daniels at the far post.
Raheem Sterling lurked unmarked beyond the left-back to convert with ease beyond Artur Boruc.
The England forward's celebration was one of relief given Cook had successfully deflected a shot on to a post moments earlier, Daniels denying Kevin de Bruyne's follow-up, after Sané, all gliding menace and class on the ball, had deposited Adam Smith in a heap on the turf.
That flurry of opportunities had almost come as a surprise, so well had the home side competed, with City taking time to adjust for the loss of Gabriel Jesus. The teenager had hurt his right foot in an early exchange and limped off for treatment in clear discomfort.
His was not the only withdrawal. Just as Bournemouth, entrenched in what has become an annual run of dismal mid-winter results, had drawn encouragement from the restoration of their first-choice back-line – injuries and suspension had taken their toll since the turn of the year – Simon Francis felt a ping of his right hamstring. Jack Wilshere would also depart before the break with Eddie Howe aggrieved to see his side playing catch-up.
It had been Wilshere's exchange with a revitalised Jordon Ibe which had almost forced them ahead before Sterling's reward, the pair's neat exchange bypassing Fernandinho and Aleksandar Kolarov only for Willy Caballero to thwart the winger with an outstretched right leg.
If the hosts cursed the goalkeeper for that smart reaction, they would quickly turn their ire on the referee, Neil Swarbrick. He had spied Josh King's grapple with John Stones as Ibe made tracks down the right, the Norwegian side-footing in what he imagined was the equaliser from the winger's cross only for the official to disallow the goal for the offence in the build-up.
The tug seemed slight but Stones’ run had been checked. City, in truth, could feel just as aggrieved at the non-award of a penalty for Harry Arter’s challenge on Sané, for all that the German had crumpled rather belatedly to the turf.
They needed the insurance of a second goal, unnerved at times by Benik Afobe’s bustling runs beyond Stones and Kolarov.
It had been the striker who squared for Arter to curl a shot goalwards, with Caballero doing well to push the attempt round a post, before City finally rediscovered their attacking rhythm. Fernandinho’s burst up-field, Sterling wriggle to the by-line and Agüero’s clever run and poked finish duly eased them clear.
Sané, waltzing into the area unchecked, would belt a shot against the bar before the end, with Kolarov stinging Boruc’s hands with another blistering effort from distance. By then the visitors were tearing into weary opponents. Chelsea may still be distant but, of the chasing pack, City are the real threat.