LONDON (REUTERS) - Manchester City closed the gap on the Premier League top four after Raheem Sterling's first-half goal proved enough to secure a hard-fought 1-0 victory over Southampton at St Mary's on Saturday (Dec 19).
After a spell of constant pressure, City broke the deadlock in the 16th minute when playmaker Kevin De Bruyne's cross from the right wing found Sterling, who slotted the ball past Saints goalkeeper Alex McCarthy.
Southampton threatened to equalise through James Ward-Prowse's set-piece deliveries but the hosts lacked a focal point in attack after striker Danny Ings was forced off with an injury just five minutes before halftime.
Bernardo Silva missed an opportunity to double City's lead early in the second half, while Southampton had an appeal for a penalty for handball against Sterling waved away by VAR.
De Bruyne and substitute Riyad Mahrez also saw opportunities go begging as City failed to add to the scoreline in the second half but the visitors were composed at the back to seal victory and move up to fifth in the league table.
It was more about the result than performance for Pep Guardiola's City as they now find themselves one point behind fourth-placed Southampton and eight adrift of leaders Liverpool, having played one game fewer than both.
"We had the momentum in the second half, but we couldn't score and we nearly suffered," Guardiola said.
"Defensively we were excellent. Last season we struggled a lot. Ruben (Dias) has helped us a lot. John (Stones) in the last few games has been exceptional."
Sterling was delighted with his team's reaction after they played out back-to-back draws against West Bromwich Albion and Manchester United over the last seven days.
"Trying to win games and score goals has been difficult for us," Sterling, who scored his fourth league goal of the season, said.
"We had a word with ourselves, dug deep and found something from within. We're a top football club and we weren't where we needed to be at.
"We knew how important it was to win today, and we're happy to get the three points."