LONDON (AFP) - Sergio Aguero lifted Manchester City's spirits as the Argentine's fine finish clinched a 1-0 win at Tottenham on the day his side's reign as Premier League champions came to an end.
Manuel Pellegrini's team kicked off just half an hour after Chelsea were crowned champions with a victory over Crystal Palace and, given the lacklustre nature of their title defence, it would have been little surprise to see City turn in a disinterested display at White Hart Lane.
But Aguero's predatory instincts came to the rescue as he netted the first half winner that kept City in second place and effectively guaranteed their berth in next season's Champions League.
City's third successive win moved them nine points clear of fifth placed Liverpool with a vastly superior goal difference and only three games remaining.
"It was a close game and Sergio scored a great goal," Pellegrini said. "I'm very happy because we played well against a difficult team.
"You must remember against Tottenham that Chelsea conceded five goals, we have a clean sheet.
"Maybe Chelsea are more consistent this year and they won the league, but we scored more when we did it."
While City were able to restore some pride in north London, Tottenham's eighth defeat in their last nine encounters with the Eastlands outfit all but ended their own bid for a top four finish.
It left Mauricio Pochettino's side seven points behind fourth placed Manchester United.
With Chelsea's title party in full swung across London, Pellegrini's men badly needed a dynamic performance to raise morale after limply surrendering their crown.
But Tottenham striker Harry Kane should have drawn level with Aguero in the race to finish as the league's top scorer after woeful City defending allowed him to race unopposed onto Erik Lamela's pass, only for the England international to drag his hurried shot wide.
After that shambolic opening, City settled and Aguero smashed a volley narrowly past the far post.
Aguero should have punished a rush of blood from Hugo Lloris when the Tottenham goalkeeper sprinted out of his area in a failed attempt to intercept Pablo Zabaleta's long pass.
The ball bounced through to Aguero but before he could take aim at the empty net he lost his balance with Tottenham defender Federico Fazio in pursuit, sparking an unsuccessful penalty appeal.
Aguero had pounded the turf in frustration when he was denied that spot-kick, but he was soon celebrating a typically clinical piece of finishing in the 29th minute.
Prompted by City goalkeeper Joe Hart's quick clearance from a Tottenham corner, David Silva advanced unchecked before delivering a fine pass to pick out Aguero's astute run and, with Tottenham's defenders failing to pick him up, the Argentina forward had time and space to blast his shot high into the roof of the net.
Aguero's fifth goal in his last four appearances was nearly followed by a much rarer strike for City team-mate Fernandinho, who saw his effort cleared off the line by Danny Rose.
Another quick City break exposed Tottenham's fragile rearguard again, but Fernandinho fired wide and Pochettino's side would have been level before half-time if Hart hadn't made an excellent stop to deny Ryan Mason.
City's costly penchant for suicidal defending has haunted them this season and they were fortunate to escape on the hour when Martin Demichelis inexplicably let the ball run through to Kane, whose shot was blocked by Hart.
Aguero scuffed wide from close-range after losing his balance as he rounded Lloris, who then had to produce a leaping save to keep out Aleksandar Kolarov's fierce drive.
The departure of injured City substitute Samir Nasri just moments after he came on amused Tottenham fans who still dislike the former Arsenal star.
But the home supporters didn't get the last laugh as Hart's excellent saves denied Paulinho and then Lamela as Tottenham failed to land a late equaliser.