Superb second-half goals from Yaya Toure and Carlos Tevez helped Manchester City to a hard-fought win over Chelsea and reduced the gap to Manchester United at the top of the Premier League to 12 points.
City were rewarded for a more attacking approach in the second period, after a first half in which they missed countless chances, Jack Rodwell and Sergio Aguero both going close to scoring for the hosts.
They had almost paid for their wastefulness when Frank Lampard had a glorious opportunity to register his 200th Chelsea goal, but his penalty was saved by Joe Hart seven minutes after the break.
Eleven minutes later City were finally in front when Yaya Toure kept his composure in the box to steer an angled shot into the bottom corner from 10 yards.
Mancini backs Hart over penalty foul
Tevez made the game safe with a blistering shot from 20 yards five minutes from time.
Lampard was replaced by Victor Moses after a quiet afternoon for the 34-year-old England midfielder that largely typified Chelsea's attacking performance, their play only becoming more expansive once they had fallen behind.
They have now lost their last four games at the Etihad and trail second-placed City by seven points with 11 games to go. More importantly, they can now be overtaken by fourth-placed Tottenham, who face West Ham on Monday.
The champions' hopes of retaining their Premier League title still look slim, but this was the perfect response to the loss at Southampton in their last league outing.
Manager Roberto Mancini's name was sung throughout by the home supporters, and although there have been some signs the Italian is feeling the pressure of being so far behind Manchester United, the atmosphere was buoyant throughout a freezing afternoon.
The City boss has said goals are the difference between his and Sir Alex Ferguson's side this season, and before this encounter he demanded that his side begin at a tempo that would bring them an early breakthrough.
Yaya Toure seemed to have got the message, having a shot saved by Petr Cech within 42 seconds, and for much of the first period it was City who showed the greater attacking endeavour.
Benitez expects more from Chelsea
Rodwell, making his first start since September, returned to bolster the midfield and could have had a hat-trick by half-time.
But the best chance fell to Aguero, who attempted to round Cech when he was one on one, only to run the ball out of play. Cech also did superbly to stop Matija Nastasic's point-blank header.
Chelsea offered little threat and failed to exploit gaps down City's wings. Demba Ba looked dangerous against Kolo Toure, but the visitors' midfield struggled to keep possession well enough to feed the Senegalese striker.
The picture changed dramatically almost immediately after the break. Branislav Ivanovic picked out Ba, and the former Newcastle striker took a touch before being brought down by the onrushing Hart, who was not even booked for the foul when he might have been lucky to stay on the field.
Reprieved by the referee, Hart then redeemed himself with his team-mates as he dived low to his right to save well from Lampard's strike.
The impressive Rodwell immediately made way for another striker in Tevez and the game opened up as a result.
Aguero was played through twice but could not take either chance, leaving Yaya Toure - so often the man for the big occasion - to finally make the breakthrough.
Silva collected the ball close to the goal-line and played it back for Toure, who skipped round two challenges before curling the ball into the bottom corner.
After that, Chelsea at last looked the more likely team to score as Rafael Benitez brought on Moses and Oscar, but Tevez settled matters with his first goal in nine league games.
Chelsea interim manager Rafael Benitez:
"When you lose, you have to be disappointed and this game was important for us because we could have been closer to Man City, but we cannot give up.
"We have to fight for the top four because Arsenal, Tottenham and Everton are close behind.
[On the penalty awarded for a foul by Joe Hart on Demba Ba] "I haven't seen the replay, but at least yellow card. You can argue he is going in this direction but it is still a clear chance. I think it was a turning point. We didn't do well in the first half but we went to half-time at 0-0.
"We were talking about keeping the ball, doing better and showing more character. Then we had the penalty. It was a crucial moment in the game."
Full Time The referee blows for the end of the match.
Unfair challenge on Demba Ba by Francisco Javi Garcia results in a free kick. David Luiz takes the free kick.
Samir Nasri fouled by Juan Mata, the ref awards a free kick. Samir Nasri takes the free kick.
Short corner taken by Juan Mata from the right by-line.
90:00 +1:31 Substitution
Substitution Joleon Lescott comes on in place of David Silva.
Shot by David Luiz from outside the area goes high over the crossbar.
90:00 +0:04 Substitution
Substitution Samir Nasri on for Sergio Aguero.
David Luiz gives away a free kick for an unfair challenge on Yaya Toure. David Silva takes the free kick.
Unfair challenge on Demba Ba by Pablo Zabaleta results in a free kick. Demba Ba takes the free kick.
David Silva provided the assist for the goal.
84:47 Goal scored
Goal! - Carlos Tevez - Man City 2 - 0 Chelsea Carlos Tevez gets on the score sheet with a goal from just outside the box to the top left corner of the goal. Man City 2-0 Chelsea.
Yaya Toure has an effort at goal from long range that misses to the right of the goal.
Substitution Fernando Torres on for Mikel.
David Silva challenges Ashley Cole unfairly and gives away a free kick. Direct free kick taken by Mikel.
Emboaba Oscar sends in a cross.
The referee blows for offside. David Luiz takes the free kick.
Corner taken right-footed by Juan Mata.
Substitution (Chelsea) makes a substitution, with Emboaba Oscar coming on for Frank Lampard.
Substitution Eden Hazard goes off and Victor Moses comes on.
Eden Hazard delivers the ball, Pablo Zabaleta manages to make a clearance.
James Milner crosses the ball, Petr Cech makes a save.
David Silva provided the assist for the goal.
62:02 Goal scored
Goal! - Yaya Toure - Man City 1 - 0 Chelsea Yaya Toure scores a goal from inside the box to the bottom right corner of the goal. Man City 1-0 Chelsea.
Corner from right by-line taken by Juan Mata.
Foul by Nascimento Ramires on Francisco Javi Garcia, free kick awarded. Gael Clichy takes the direct free kick.
Shot from deep inside the area by Sergio Aguero clears the crossbar.
Nascimento Ramires challenges Matija Nastasic unfairly and gives away a free kick. Direct free kick taken by Gael Clichy.
David Silva takes a inswinging corner to the near post.
Sergio Aguero takes a shot. Blocked by Gary Cahill.
Petr Cech takes the free kick.
Substitution Carlos Tevez replaces Jack Rodwell.
Jack Rodwell gives away a free kick for an unfair challenge on Gary Cahill.
Inswinging corner taken right-footed by Eden Hazard from the left by-line, Header from deep inside the area by Gary Cahill goes over the bar.
Penalty taken by Frank Lampard is saved by Joe Hart. Man City 0-0 Chelsea.
Penalty awarded for a foul by Joe Hart on Demba Ba.
Eden Hazard takes a shot. Save made by Joe Hart.
Effort from the edge of the box by Sergio Aguero goes wide of the left-hand post.
The ball is crossed by Gael Clichy, Gary Cahill makes a clearance.
Pablo Zabaleta gives away a free kick for an unfair challenge on Eden Hazard. Frank Lampard restarts play with the free kick.
The game restarts for the second half.
45:00 +2:10 Half time
Half Time The ref blows to end the first period.
Branislav Ivanovic delivers the ball, Kolo Toure manages to make a clearance.
Unfair challenge on James Milner by Demba Ba results in a free kick. Joe Hart restarts play with the free kick.
Direct free kick taken by Eden Hazard.
Booking Pablo Zabaleta booked.
Pablo Zabaleta concedes a free kick for a foul on Ashley Cole.
Corner taken by David Silva from the right by-line, Jack Rodwell takes a shot. Save made by Petr Cech.
Jack Rodwell takes a shot. Save by Petr Cech.
Corner taken left-footed by Juan Mata from the right by-line to the near post, David Silva manages to make a clearance.
David Luiz takes the free kick.
Booking Kolo Toure goes into the referee's book for unsporting behaviour.
Kolo Toure challenges Juan Mata unfairly and gives away a free kick.
Pablo Zabaleta takes a shot. Blocked by Gary Cahill.
David Silva sends in a cross.
Booking The referee books Nascimento Ramires for unsporting behaviour.
Nascimento Ramires is caught offside. Indirect free kick taken by Joe Hart.
Inswinging corner taken by David Silva from the right by-line, Jack Rodwell takes a shot. Blocked by Gary Cahill. Free kick awarded for an unfair challenge on Mikel by David Silva. David Luiz takes the direct free kick.
Header from deep inside the area by Jack Rodwell goes harmlessly over the crossbar.
Direct free kick taken by Juan Mata.
Booking The referee books Jack Rodwell for unsporting behaviour.
Free kick awarded for a foul by Jack Rodwell on Branislav Ivanovic.
Free kick awarded for an unfair challenge on Demba Ba by Matija Nastasic. Mikel restarts play with the free kick.
Yaya Toure challenges Nascimento Ramires unfairly and gives away a free kick. Frank Lampard fires a strike on goal direct from the free kick.
Foul by Pablo Zabaleta on Eden Hazard, free kick awarded. Juan Mata restarts play with the free kick.
Pablo Zabaleta concedes a free kick for a foul on Eden Hazard. Direct free kick taken by Juan Mata.
The ball is crossed by Nascimento Ramires, James Milner makes a clearance.
Jack Rodwell gives away a free kick for an unfair challenge on Nascimento Ramires. Gary Cahill takes the direct free kick.
The ball is delivered by Gael Clichy, clearance made by Gary Cahill.
Jack Rodwell challenges Nascimento Ramires unfairly and gives away a free kick. Free kick taken by Mikel.
Jack Rodwell takes a shot. Gary Cahill gets a block in.
Short corner worked by James Milner.
Yaya Toure takes a shot. Blocked by Gary Cahill.
Pablo Zabaleta produces a cross, clearance made by Gary Cahill.
Free kick awarded for a foul by Sergio Aguero on Gary Cahill. Free kick taken by Gary Cahill.
Sergio Aguero is caught offside. Petr Cech restarts play with the free kick.
Corner taken left-footed by David Silva from the right by-line, Matija Nastasic takes a shot. Petr Cech makes a save.
Branislav Ivanovic sends in a cross.
Free kick awarded for a foul by Sergio Aguero on Branislav Ivanovic. Free kick taken by Branislav Ivanovic.
Frank Lampard crosses the ball, clearance made by Kolo Toure.
A cross is delivered by Yaya Toure.
Free kick awarded for an unfair challenge on Juan Mata by Francisco Javi Garcia. Direct free kick taken by Branislav Ivanovic.
James Milner sends in a cross, save by Petr Cech.
Corner taken by Juan Mata played to the near post, Gael Clichy makes a clearance.
Inswinging corner taken right-footed by James Milner from the left by-line to the near post, Demba Ba manages to make a clearance.
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