Manchester City returned to the top of the Premier League for the first time in two months with a 2-0 win at Everton to ramp up the pressure on title rivals Liverpool.
The Toffees’ weakness at set-pieces was exploited with Aymeric Laporte scoring a header seconds before half-time.
But it was credit to the much-changed hosts in a new-look formation that it was City’s first shot on target.
Substitute Gabriel Jesus added the second in the seventh minute of added time.
As a result Pep Guardiola’s side went top by virtue of their superior goal difference over Liverpool, but having played one match more.
The Reds’ game in hand is against Manchester United on February 24 at Old Trafford.
There was a section of Everton fans who, pre-match, had declared they were happy to see the team lose if it meant damaging their neighbours’ title aspirations, but no one could accuse Marco Silva’s side of throwing in the towel.
City struggled to break down the 4-4-1-1 formation, which saw captain-on-the-night Tom Davies providing the forward momentum breaking from midfield and Dominic Calvert-Lewin doing an admirable job occupying John Stones and Nicolas Otamendi.
Under-pressure manager Marco Silva’s big call, leaving out leading scorers Richarlison and Gylfi Sigurdsson, was justified up to the point when they again conceded from a free-kick with seconds remaining in the first half.
Taking out two players who accounted for 19 of Everton’s 36 league goals this season made them more solid in open play, and it had the desired effect of blunting City, although not without their fair share of luck.
Leroy Sane, who was given the freedom of the left-wing with right-back Jonjoe Kenny tucking in, volleyed wide after just three minutes before crossing for Ilkay Gundogan to have a shot blocked.
From the resulting corner Laporte headed wide from three yards. It was a warning Everton failed to heed, despite all their good work in covering the hard yards to prevent City getting in behind them.
The visitors maintained their pressure and Jordan Pickford made a good point-blank save from David Silva, although the flag had already gone up, incorrectly, for offside against Sane.
But in added time Idrissa Gana Gueye, back in the side for the first time since being denied a move to Paris St Germain, clattered Fernandinho 25 yards out and David Silva’s delivery was met by a thumping Laporte header.
A 12th Premier League goal – and 17th in all competitions – conceded from a set-piece, excluding penalties, means Everton now have the worst record in the top flight.
Everton’s chasing of the game played into City’s hands but the introduction of Sigurdsson and Richarlison, and latterly Cenk Tosun, offered the hope of snatching a point as the visitors struggled to press home their advantage.
They had just two shots on target in the second half, one of which was Jesus’ header with virtually the last touch of the game.
While it was not a statement performance to send a message to Liverpool, the onus is now on Jurgen Klopp’s team to respond as they play Bournemouth on Saturday, 24 hours before City host Chelsea.