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Soccer-City hitting form at right time, says Pellegrini

Reuters

(Adjusts points after late matches)

April 5 (Reuters) - Manchester City manager Manuel Pellegrini has warned his Premier League rivals that his side are hitting their stride as the title race enters its final stretch.

Saturday's 4-1 home win over a lively Southampton side was City's fifth in their last six matches, with the other result a 1-1 draw at fourth-placed Arsenal.

The 2012 champions lie third with 70 points, two behind leaders Chelsea who beat Stoke City 3-0 on Saturday, and one adrift of Liverpool, who play West Ham United on Sunday. Crucially, however, they have matches in hand on both.

Pellegrini's side suffered shock defeats to Cardiff City and Aston Villa earlier in the season, but having shored up their defence they have not lost in the league since going down to Chelsea in early February.

They face a massive clash with Liverpool next weekend and Pellegrini said their recent form gave them confidence heading into the final matches of the season.

"The four teams have the same pressure until the end of the season - they all want to win the title," Pellegrini told the club website (www.mcfc.co.uk) after the match.

"Everyone knows that they must win - whether they know our result or not," he said.

"We just depend on ourselves until the end of the season - it's important to continue playing the way we did in the second half because I thought it was a great performance.

"We are enjoying a very good second round of fixtures where the results are much better than the first half (of the championship).

"We've had four wins and one draw in our last five games - maybe we had low performances in the month of February but I think that now the team has come back to its best performances."

City faced a determined Southampton side who fought back from Yaya Toure's early penalty opener through a Rickie Lambert penalty.

Goals from Samir Nasri and Edin Dzeko just before the break gave City breathing space before substitute Stevan Jovetic added a fourth late on.

There was controversy surrounding the second goal, with David Silva appearing to be offside in the build-up.

The decision to allow the goal infuriated Southampton manager Mauricio Pochettino, but Pellegrini said the decision did not play a major role in the eventual outcome.

"I don't think that the second goal changed the game because we scored a few minutes later," the Chilean said.

"I don't think the difference was just the second goal, we won 4-1.

"If we had only won the game 1-0 maybe you can say it was an important mistake by the referee."

Pochettino clearly disagreed, saying after Saints had given their opponents a tough challenge early on, the decision swung momentum back to the hosts.

He also quibbled with the early penalty decision when Jose Fonte was adjudged to have brought down Dzeko.

"The first 45 minutes, we were superior to a team equipped to win the Premier League," he said.

"To beat a team like City, a team full of world-class players, you have to have a perfect day and have the refereeing decisions to be fair and they weren't today.

"I've just seen it (the penalty decision) on TV and I don't think you can give that after two minutes and their second goal was clearly, two metres, offside.

"That's the kind of game you play at school and when you get a bad call like that it can affect any player and it did today - it affected our players."

(Reporting by Josh Reich; Editing by Ed Osmond)

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