London: The post-Mario Balotelli era at Manchester City began in lacklustre fashion as they were held to a 0-0 draw at Queens Park Rangers on Tuesday that prevented them from making up ground on Manchester United.
Victory for City would have cut United’s lead to just two points but instead Alex Ferguson’s side were due to tackle Southampton on Wednesday with an opportunity to re-open a seven-point lead at the Premier League summit.
AC Milan claim Balotelli has agreed to join them and the troublesome Italian striker is expected to complete a switch to San Siro on Wednesday, but City could have done with some extra firepower at Loftus Road.
An injury to Vincent Kompany obliged the champions to start with Spanish midfielder Javi Garcia at centre-back, but they began with both Carlos Tevez and Sergio Aguero in attack as they sought to exploit bottom club QPR’s defensive frailties.
Joleon Lescott blazed an early chance over the crossbar from close range, while Pablo Zabaleta headed against the bar from a David Silva cross and Aguero had a goal ruled out for offside.
Adel Taarabt provided a reminder of QPR’s threat with a low shot that Joe Hart had to keep out but the hosts were indebted to Julio Cesar for a superb save to deny Gareth Barry and keep the scores level at half-time.
City added a third striker to the mix in the second half in the shape of Edin Dzeko, but still the goal eluded them, with Aguero shooting over from 12 yards before Julio Cesar produced another fine reflex save to repel Silva.
City manager Roberto Mancini confirmed Balotelli was set to leave, telling Sky Sports: “We love Mario like a guy, we love Mario like a player, but I think he had this big chance to go back to Italy and play for a big club like Milan.”
QPR remain bottom of the table, but they are now just four points from safety.
Newcastle United claimed their first away win of the season with a 2-1 victory at Aston Villa that further deepened the gloom hanging over Paul Lambert’s side.
French debutant Mousa Sissoko teed up Papiss Cisse for Newcastle’s 19th-minute opener and another Frenchman, Yohan Cabaye, made it 2-0 just after the half hour with a glorious, dipping half-volley.
Villa stirred in the second half, hitting back with an early penalty from Christian Benteke, but Newcastle held on despite late pressure from the home side.
“We played the football Newcastle fans want to see in that first half. They haven’t seen that much this year,” said Newcastle coach Alan Pardew.
Eliminated from both the League Cup and the FA Cup by lower-league opposition last week, Villa have now slipped into the Premier League relegation zone to boot, while Newcastle climb one place to 15th.
Lambert tried to focus on the positives in his side’s performance.
“I’ve never seen a standing ovation after getting beat before but that shows the effort we put in in the second half,” he said.
“We never played well in the first half all but I couldn’t fault them after the break.”
Wigan Athletic capitalised on Villa’s slip-up by storming back from 2-0 down at Stoke City to earn a 2-2 draw that lifted them out of the bottom three.
Goals from Ryan Shawcross and Peter Crouch looked to have put the hosts in command, but James McArthur’s fine goal immediately halved the deficit and Franco Di Santo equalised in the 61st minute with an emphatic volley.
League Cup finalists Swansea City were held to a goalless draw at Sunderland but the point was still sufficient for Michael Laudrup’s men to clamber above West Bromwich Albion into eighth place.