MARIO BALOTELLI smashed a hat-trick as Manchester City went to the top of the Barclays Premier League, for a few hours at least, after they thumped out-of-form Aston Villa 4-0 at Eastlands.
The controversial Italian striker - condemned by manager Roberto Mancini for his poor attitude and supposedly struggling to cope with life in Manchester - was recalled to the starting XI because of concerns over the fitness of Carlos Tevez, and set City on their way in the eighth minute with a penalty after he was tripped by Eric Lichaj.
Before Villa - who have slumped down the table after four defeats in five games - could recover, they were trailing 2-0 on 13 minutes when Joleon Lescott's header from a corner was deemed to have crossed the line, despite the efforts of midfielder Barry Bannan.
Roberto Mancini's men all but secured three points when Balotelli struck again from close range on 27 minutes after Brad Friedel had saved from David Silva.
Balotelli (55) completed his hat-trick from the spot at the start of the second half after Adam Johnson had been fouled by Marc Albrighton.
City's rivals Manchester United will return to the summit if they get a result at Birmingham tonight.
Tottenham took their chance to go fourth above Chelsea, who lost at Arsenal last night, with a 2-0 win over Newcastle at White Hart Lane, where they had to play the final 25 minutes with 10 men after Younes Kaboul's sending off.
Magpies keeper Tim Krul had saved well from Rafael van der Vaart's free-kick before then pushing a header by Roman Pavlyuchenko on to the woodwork.
The visitors' resistance was finally broken just before the hour mark through Aaron Lennon's angled drive.
Kaboul received his marching orders after picking up two bookings in the space of 10 minutes, but Gareth Bale (81) wrapped up the points for Harry Redknapp's men with another fine individual effort.
Fulham recorded a first away win since August 2009, beating Stoke 2-0 via a rare brace from defender Chris Baird to ease the pressure on manager Mark Hughes.
The Cottagers - who started the day in the bottom three - made an early breakthrough after just four minutes when Northern Ireland international Baird crashed in a 20-yard effort off the post for his first Fulham goal.
With fog descending at the Britannia Stadium, Fulham doubled their lead as Baird - whose last goal came at Southampton in March 2007 - netted again and the home side were unable to find a way back.
Blackpool secured a fifth away victory after DJ Campbell's second-half double (55 & 90) proved enough to take all three points at Sunderland.
Asamoah Gyan and Jordan Henderson had gone close for the Black Cats, while Darren Bent hit the woodwork with a late free-kick.
Blackburn manager Steve Kean recorded his first win as Rovers beat West Brom 3-1 at The Hawthorns, despite having Nikola Kalinic sent off.
The Croatia striker had given the visitors an early lead when he had been played through by El-Hadji Diouf after just three minutes.
However, Jerome Thomas (17) equalised after converting Somen Tchoyi's cross.
Rovers, though, were back in front when Kalinic (53) headed in after a corner and Mame Biram Diouf (62) extended their advantage just after the hour.
However, Kalinic then was shown a straight red card by referee Phil Dowd after going in late and hard on Paul Scharner.
Scharner later hit the bar with a header, but there was no way back for the Baggies, who suffered a third straight defeat and finished the match with 10 men when Gabriel Tamas (87) was shown a red card for a professional foul on Mame Diouf.
This afternoon's late kick-off sees relegation-battlers West Ham host Everton.