Nicolas Anelka came back to haunt Manchester City with two coolly taken first-half goals to maintain Bolton Wanderers' impetus at the right end of the Premiership table.
City, sliding inexorably towards the wrong end, were unlucky to have what looked a valid equaliser disallowed but were generally outplayed by neighbours with far more to look forward to in the new year.
The home side also had their best player by a distance, Joey Barton, sent off four minutes from time for a lunging tackle from behind on Abdoulaye Faye.
Anelka who scored 37 goals in 88 Premiership games for City between 2002-2005 had already done the damage long before Barton's departure, starting with a neatly constructed goal in the eighth minute.
In the absence of the suspended Kevin Davies, the Wanderers had switched to a 4-4-2 formation with less emphasis on the high ball to the front man.
There was nothing remotely route one about their opening goal with Anelka starting the move with a pass to Kevin Nolan and then running on to take Nicky Hunt's angled ball in his stride and taking it past Nicky Weaver. The City manager, Stuart Pearce, had described Anelka's career in mid-week as one of under-achievement, but he showed his quality again on 25 minutes.
This time, Tal Bel-Haim and Henrik Pedersen opened up City down the left flank with the Dane finding all the time and space he needed to pick out Anelka beyond the far post to enable the Frenchman to score as casually as he liked. His manager, Sam Allardyce, recalled that he had done something similar to Arsenal.
"I wish he had played for the other 17 Premiership clubs because he has shown both these clubs what they have missed," he said. "There is nobody better at finishing off those type of chances off."
In between Anelka's two goals came the moment that could have transformed the afternoon for City. Paul Dickov's header was on its way to the back of the net when Jussi Jaaskelainen, surely the Premiership's best goalkeeper on current form, clawed it back.
A replay suggested that the ball had already cross the line, but that is how good Jaaskelainen is at the moment: even when you beat him you don't.
"I thought it wasn't over the line," said Allardyce. "The save was so good that it deserved not to be a goal."
Not surprisingly, the City manager saw it rather differently. "It was only a foot over," said Pearce who also disagreed with Mike Riley's decision to send off Barton. "I am not sure that was a sending off. We'll be appealing against that."Reuse content