Raheem Sterling has been directly involved in five goals in his past five Premier League games against Southampton

Manchester City returned to winning ways in the Premier League and reduced the gap to the top four with a hard-fought victory over in-form Southampton at St Mary’s.

Raheem Sterling swept in from Kevin de Bruyne’s cutback after 16 minutes as Pep Guardiola’s side stamped their authority following the hosts’ energetic start.

Southampton, who began the day third in the table, responded well but their efforts to draw level were hampered by the loss of striker Danny Ings through injury before half-time.

In a tightly contested second half, Bernardo Silva miscued his shot after being played in by De Bruyne, while the hosts had appeals for a penalty for handball against Sterling dismissed by VAR.

Saints goalkeeper Alex McCarthy kept his side’s hopes of salvaging a result alive with a good save from Ilkay Gundogan’s curled shot, but Sterling’s finish proved decisive for a City side which had drawn their past two games.

City are one point behind fourth-placed Southampton and eight adrift of leaders Liverpool, having played one game fewer than both.