Manchester City took over at the top of the Premier League table on Saturday but only after weathering heavy pressure from Crystal Palace in a narrow 1-0 home victory.
Having described the English festive fixture schedule as “not normal”, City manager Manuel Pellegrini made six changes to his side and Palace almost took full advantage at the Etihad Stadium.
City goalkeeper Joe Hart was left with an ugly cut beneath his left eye that would later require stitches after saving at the feet of Cameron Jerome in the first half and it was to mark the start of a frantic afternoon for the England man.
He saved brilliantly from Jason Puncheon and Mile Jedinak, while Marouane Chamakh headed wide from eight yards out as Palace looked to continue their impressive recent form under new manager Tony Pulis.
With half-an-hour remaining, Pellegrini sent on Samir Nasri and Alvaro Negredo, and in the 66th minute the hosts made the breakthrough when Edin Dzeko slammed home from Jesus Navas’s cut-back.
Hart’s work was not finished, however, and he had to produce another fine stop to deny Joel Ward before City could celebrate their ninth consecutive home success this season.
“I think the team that wants to win the title must have different faces,” said Pellegrini.
“We usually score lots of goals at home but after 45 minutes we knew it would not be like that.”
Victory took City two points above previous leaders Arsenal, who visit Newcastle United on Sunday.
Manchester United closed to within two points of the Champions League places after recording a sixth consecutive victory in all competitions with a 1-0 win at Norwich City.
The defending champions were without Wayne Rooney due to a groin injury and needed the half-time introduction of Danny Welbeck to secure victory at Carrow Road.
David Moyes’s men had laboured until then but in the 57th minute a favourable ricochet off Javier Hernandez set Welbeck free and he rounded England team-mate John Ruddy before sliding in the winning goal.
“Danny Welbeck couldn’t score very often last season but he looks like he will do it every time now. He changed the game today when he came on,” said Moyes, whose side came from behind to win 3-2 at Hull City on Thursday.
“He is doing very well and we need everybody to chip in with goals when Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie are out. I would expect Rooney to be back for Tottenham (on Wednesday).”
The win took United level on points with fifth-place Everton, although they have now played a game more than all of the teams above them apart from City.
On Sunday, Everton host Southampton, while third-placed Chelsea tackle fourth-placed Liverpool at Stamford Bridge.
Cardiff City began life after Malky Mackay, sacked from his post as manager on Friday, with an agonising 2-2 draw at home to bottom club Sunderland.
Goals in each half from Jordon Mutch and former Sunderland striker Fraizer Campbell put Cardiff 2-0 up, but Steven Fletcher pulled a goal back in the 83rd minute before Jack Colback netted a deflected equaliser in the fifth minute of stoppage time.
Cardiff remain in 16th place in the table, two points above the relegation places, while Sunderland inched to within two points of safety.
Elsewhere, relegation rivals West Ham United and West Bromwich Albion played out a richly entertaining 3-3 draw at Upton Park.
West Ham led twice, first through Joe Cole and then Kevin Nolan, but on each occasion they were pegged back by the visitors, who remain without a permanent head coach following the sacking of Steve Clarke.
Nicolas Anelka broke his West Brom duck with a quick-fire brace to cancel out Cole’s fourth-minute opener and put the away team ahead, with Saido Berahino netting a 69th-minute equaliser after goals from Modibo Maiga and Nolan had restored West Ham’s lead.
The goal from Berahino, who later hit the post from a free-kick, prevented West Ham from climbing out of the relegation zone and left West Brom two points above the bottom three in 15th place.
Fulham also remain in the drop zone after a 6-0 humiliation at Hull and Aston Villa were held to a 1-1 draw by Swansea City.