Yaya Touré the key man as title pendulum swings away from Liverpool

Manchester City's imperious midfielder led the way again in what may prove the defining day in the Premier League title race

The first cheer of the day for the travelling Manchester City supporters came before kick-off, but the noise continued long into the evening. As Willian slid the ball into an unguarded net some 200 miles away, a section of Selhurst Park danced. They were jumping again soon having been transformed from outsiders to title frontrunners in the space of a tumultuous afternoon.

For the first time in weeks, genuine belief resonated from the City support and dugout. This was an assured display against a Crystal Palace team in fine form and attempting to secure a club record sixth league win in succession. Manuel Pellegrini's side must now be favourites for the Premier League and, on this evidence, have no intention of squandering an unexpected shot at redemption.

Pellegrini and co leapt off the bench as Edin Dzeko headed in the opening goal. If that was a reaction that symbolised a significant shift in momentum during this turbulent title race, the celebrations at full time heightened emotions further.

City's players marched triumphantly over to their fans who reacted in the same fervent manner as Liverpool's hordes at Anfield only two weeks ago when City were beaten in what felt at that time like the deciding match of the season. Joe Hart's post-match salute increased the volume further, with City's fans applauding the players who fist-pumped as if a huge corner had been turned.

"To be honest, we were looking a little bit at the Liverpool-Chelsea game," said Yaya Touré, City's matchwinner. "We played really well. Palace had won a few games recently and it was a tricky game but we did well. I never want to give up. Between us, Liverpool and Chelsea, it is tight and we need to win all our games. Every game for me is crucial and today we played like it was a final."

Three finals remain for City if Liverpool are to be usurped at the league's summit, but this felt like a momentous result. Failure to win here would have almost ruled City out of contention, but victory puts matters back into their own hands having previously been reliant on others to fail.

Next weekend's trip to Everton remains the big obstacle, but a clean sheet and a confident display here means three wins from three will almost certainly be sufficient to secure a second Premier League title in three seasons.

The positives for City were plentiful. Touré, returning to the side following a two-match absence through injury, made one and scored one before being withdrawn with time to spare. Touré was not required to play the full match, something which could be of significant benefit to City at Goodison Park, while Sergio Agüero worked through another 77 minutes on his route to full sharpness.

This was no vintage display of mesmerising quality, but the result was never in doubt from the fourth minute onwards. City's individual class separated them from Palace's endeavour, with Jason Puncheon and Yannick Bolasie never allowed to get a foothold in the game by Aleksandar Kolarov and Pablo Zabaleta.

At the other end, meanwhile, Touré's brilliance shone as it has done throughout the campaign. If City are to complete a remarkable turnaround in the coming fortnight then the midfielder will have played the key role.

His 19th league goal of the season was another demonstration of the attributes that have earned him the status as one of the finest players in the world and offered further proof that he is at the heart of all City's most devastating work in attack.

Touré's ball for Dzeko to head in the opening goal could not have been better placed. A yard in front of the striker and Julián Speroni could have claimed, a yard less and it would not have reached Dzeko for his 12th of the season. The Bosnian made the finish look simple, running onto the pinpoint cross and steering past Speroni without having to break stride.

Touré's goal was another moment of magic. Outpacing Damien Delaney with frightening ease, the quick feet and measured finish with his left foot that followed cut like a knife through Palace's heart, and surely Liverpool's too.

A number of his goals this season have come at key times; the winner against Stoke in February and the two goals at West Bromwich in December examples of his influence throughout City's campaign, not to mention his crucial strike in the League Cup final that catalysed a comeback against Sunderland.

The feeling at Eastlands last Monday after the victory over West Brom was not one befitting champions-elect. The race is not over yet, but Touré's performance has shifted the impetus away from Liverpool and back to Manchester at a critical moment.

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