Manchester: Argentina striker Sergio Aguero endured a bittersweet first match of 2013 for Manchester City, rounding off the scoring in a routine 3-0 win over Stoke before giving the champions a scare by going off with a hamstring injury. Aguero converted a 74th-minute penalty, adding to goals by compatriot Pablo Zabaleta and fellow forward Edin Dzeko, to ensure Stoke's 10-match unbeaten run in the Premier League came to a crushing end at the Etihad Stadium.
However, City's joint-top scorer, with 10 goals in all competitions, was forced off three minutes later - clutching his right hamstring - after pulling up sharply as he embarked on a dribble. According to City assistant manager David Platt, it is likely to keep him out of Saturday's FA Cup third-round match against Watford and probably the Premier League game against Arsenal on January 13.
"It's a blow but unfortunately, when you have got so many games in a short space of time, you are running the risk with everybody," Platt said. But there are different degrees of hamstring injuries - that's why we need 48 hours."
That was the only negative on City's day as Roberto Mancini's second-place team stayed seven points behind Manchester United in the title race.
"I've got no complaints they were the better team," Stoke manager Tony Pulis said. "Someone has just asked me what the difference was and I said about 220 million pounds. For us to come here and get anything we have to bring our 'A' game and City have to be off it, and that wasn't the case today."
Goalkeeper Asmir Begovic worked wonders to keep Stoke in the game before Zabaleta's goal, coming out on top in his private duel with Aguero. The striker was presented with four gilt-edged chances in the opening 33 minutes, but was denied three times by brilliant Begovic saves while also firing over.
It was left to Aguero's compatriot to calm the nerves of an increasingly frustrated City faithful, Zabaleta finding himself in the perfect position to slot home from seven yards after Begovic intercepted James Milner's cross from the right. Thereafter, it was a matter of when, rather than if, City would add to their lead and the second goal arrived through Dzeko, tapping into an empty net following Begovic's latest save from Aguero.
With an eighth home win in 11 matches secure, City became more slack and Stoke threatened from a couple set pieces but the home defense - containing the recalled Joleon Lescott - held firm. And Aguero finally got the goal his all-round performance deserved when he converted a penalty after David Silva was fouled by Steven Nzonzi, although contact appeared to be made just outside the area. However, that was Aguero's last meaningful contribution as he limped off soon after.
Glenn Whelan had a shot tipped onto the post by goalkeeper Joe Hart late on as City kept a clean sheet.