MANCHESTER (REUTERS) - England forward Raheem Sterling's 100th Premier League goal was enough to earn leaders Manchester City a 1-0 win over 10-man Wolverhampton Wanderers on Saturday (Dec 11).
Wolves were doing a fine job of frustrating City in the opening period before striker Raul Jimenez's dismissal for two yellow cards in quick succession in first-half stoppage time changed the complexion of the game.
City dominated the second half as a result, edging in front through Sterling's penalty - a decision that required a lengthy Video Assistant Referee check - in the 66th minute.
The home side had plenty of chances to make the result more comfortable, with Jack Grealish's struggles since becoming the British record transfer in the close season continuing as he missed from close range.
However, one goal proved enough for City who picked up their sixth successive league win to move four points clear of Liverpool, who host Aston Villa later on Saturday, at the top of the standings.
Wolves, who battled hard as decisions went against them at the Etihad Stadium, stay eighth on 21 points from 16 games.
“We were much better when Wolves played with 11 rather than 10 players,” City coach Pep Guardiola said. “It is so difficult to play against a team that don’t want to play or to attack.
“We knew how tough it would be. We were patient all the time. They can punish you on the counter and that has happened in the past against them. In general, we were good but not so clever in the final third.”
The game hinged on one moment of madness. Wolves looked comfortable going into the interval before Jimenez's needless dismissal gave City the lift they needed.
The Mexico international received his first yellow card for a foul on midfielder Rodri and 31 seconds later got another for blocking Rodri's free kick having not retreated enough.
“He knows he cannot do that,” Wolves manager Bruno Lage said. “I went into the dressing room and saw his face.
“But the first yellow, he didn’t touch the man and we have 10 men behind the ball. So it is a very hard decision and cost us a lot.”
After the break, it was all-out attack from City, with Conor Coady clearing off the line to deny Ilkay Gundogan.
Referee Jon Moss then further ensured he won't be welcome in Wolverhampton any time soon after awarding City a penalty for handball against Joao Moutinho.
The Portugal midfielder was adamant the ball hit his ribs but, following a long delay while the VAR checked the incident, Moss' decision stood.
Sterling slotted the penalty down the middle, becoming the 32nd player to reach 100 Premier League goals.
"(It) is a lovely achievement," the 27-year-old told BT Sport. "There are some fantastic players in that list. I'm really honoured to be in it now.
"We knew we (City) had to keep patient. They kept it really tight, but we knew if we kept playing we'd get an opportunity - and we did."
The hosts should have made the win more comfortable.
Bernardo Silva was denied by a smart save from Wolves goalkeeper Jose Sa, while several other last-ditch blocks kept them at bay.
The visitors piled forward late on and had one last-gasp opportunity to snatch a point but Ederson tipped Max Kilman's header over the bar.