Benarbia's magic spirits City back to summit

Crewe Alexandra 1 Manchester City 3
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The Independent Football

As so often this season, Ali Benarbia's sublime touches set Manchester City on their way to victory and took them back to the top of the First Division. The Algerian midfielder's memorable opening goal subdued a spirited Crewe side and he then created the second for Darren Huckerby on the stroke of half-time.

Rodney Jack gave the home side some hope with an opportunist strike in the 55th minute, but an emphatic finish from Shaun Goater, his 30th goal of the season, finished the game with 15 minutes to go and made sure that City's advantage over West Bromwich in third place is now an imposing 13 points.

To their credit Crewe tried to take on Kevin Keegan's side and in the third minute were close to taking the lead. A slick combination between Rob Hulse and Dean Ashton released Colin Little but his weak 15-yard shot was easily saved by Carlo Nash.

Midfielder Kenny Lunt had to clear a Shaun Goater header off the line, yet Crewe still made most of the early running. Ashton drove in a wicked cross that needed a brave intervention from Nash at the feet of Hulse and captain David Wright produced a fulsome drive that the City keeper could only gather at the second attempt.

However, Dario Gradi's side were rocked back by Benarbia's stunning strike in the 28th minute. Picking the ball up in the inside-left channel, he dribbled to the edge of the box and dispatched a right-foot curling shot into the top corner that gave goalkeeper Clayton Ince no chance.

The free transfer signing from Paris St-Germain proved he was human after all soon after, scooping the ball wide of an open goal after an Ince error, yet he did not let the miss affect him and picked out the lively Huckerby for City's second on the stroke of half-time.

Only two points clear of the relegation zone, Crewe made a game of it in the second half as substitute Jack's 20-yard snap-shot from the left beat Nash after the keeper slipped coming off his line for a Hulse cross.

Briefly, City wobbled, Hulse going close a minute later with a low header, but they soon reasserted themselves and Goater missed several good chances before Huckerby's flick set him up in the 75th minute.

Crewe Alexandra (4-4-2): Ince; Wright, Walton, Sodje, Charnock (Rix, 70); Little (Jack, h-t), Lunt, Sorvel, Vaughan; Ashton (Street, 88), Hulse. Substitutes not used: Bankole (gk), Foster.

Manchester City (3-5-2): Nash; Dunne, Wiekens, Pearce; Wright-Phillips, Benarbia, Horlock, Tiatto, Jensen; Goater, Huckerby. Substitutes not used: Murphy (gk), Sun Jihai, Mettomo, Ritchie, Macken.

Referee: P Danson (Leicester).