Though the first half was largely nip and tuck, the champions finally found their best form again with a breath-taking second-half display that swept Mark Hughes’ side away.
Two goals from Sergio Aguero - who appeared to pick up an injury late on - plus strikes from James Milner and Samir Nasri were just reward for Manuel Pellegrini’s men who ended their winless run in style.
City went into the game knowing that they couldn’t keep dropping points - 11 had been squandered out of a possible 18 in the past six games and the gap between the champions and Chelsea was in danger of becoming too great.
Of course, a trip to the Britannia Stadium is one the Blues have hardly relished over the years. No league win since 1999 and no Premier League wins whatsoever – it was a run that needed to end
...Stoke 1 City 4...
Pellegrini shuffled his pack slightly after the disappointing draw with Hull, with Aleksandar Kolarov, Eliaquim Mangala and Milner all recalled to the starting line-up.
City desperately needed a good start, and with just four minutes gone, they almost got it as David Silva picked out Fernandinho’s late run into the box - but a lack of communication meant Aguero went for the loose ball as well and his weak shot was easily saved.
The Blues almost paid for the error within a couple of minutes after a frantic 60 seconds during which Stoke should have taken the lead.
Joe Hart uncharacteristically spilled Victor Moses’ long-range shot and from the resulting corner Peter Crouch’s header was cleared a yard from goal by Milner with the home fans claiming the ball had struck his arm – replays showed it did, but it wasn’t intentional. Crouch then had a goal scrubbed off for offside - though it was a close call as City rode their luck a little.
Stoke came close again on 20 minutes when Hart parried Charles N’Zonzi’s pile-driver from 20 yards and Moses fired the rebound a yard wide from the edge of the box with the hosts well on top by that point
...Stoke 1 City 4...
There were too many misplaced passes from the champions who looked edgy in possession and lacking in fluidity.
The apprehension was there for all to see when Fernandinho raced clear into the box before cutting inside and over-hitting a pass to Nasri as the attack was wasted.
For all the clever passes and ability City have in their locker, it was a good-old fashioned hoof upfield that finally led to the first goal as Milner hacked the ball 50-yards clear of his own box and Aguero emerged the victor from a wrestling match just inside the Stoke half before racing towards goal and burying a low drive past Asmir Begovic with 32 minutes played.
It was Aguero’s first goal since returning from injury and his 20th of the season – but the lead lasted just five minutes as Marko Arnautovic swung in a cross that evaded Vincent Kompany and was headed home by Crouch.
The Blues responded well and were unlucky not to go into the break in front as first Zabaleta’s clever low cross was guided inches past the post by Fernando, and then Aguero was denied a second goal with ball bizarrely hitting his hand as he forced it over the line from Silva’s cross.
Replays showed the ball was going in anyway so it was a double-blow for City and pretty much summed up the champions’ luck of late.
It would have been easy for City to have dwelled on their poor fortune, but instead they raced out of the blocks after the break and suddenly looked like the team that has swept aside so many teams over the past few years with Milner, Nasri and Silva irresistible and carving the home defence to shreds.
Kolarov broke through and should have scored, then Aguero was brought down in the box with no reward – but it was just a matter of time before lead was regained and on 55 minutes, City went 2-1 up
...Stoke 1 City 4...
Silva and Nasri weaved their magic on the right before Nasri chipped a sweet cross in for Milner to head past Begovic like a seasoned No.9 – much to the delight of the 4,000 travelling army behind the goal.
Suddenly, the movement, the confidence and the swagger was back and as the Potters chased shadows at times, a piece of magic by the Magician himself on 70 minutes gave the Blues the breathing space they deserved.
As Silva worked his way into the box, he appeared to have lost the ball to Geoff Cameron, before regaining possession, gave a pirouette and was then felled by the Stoke defender allowing Aguero to tuck home the penalty for his second of the night.
The Blues capped a majestic performance when Nasri drove forward, skipping past numerous challenges before hitting a superb shot past Begovic for the fourth of the evening on 76 minutes.
Edin Dzeko and Fernandinho might have inflicted further damage, but City declared at four on a night that hopefully will stir the slumbering champions into life at exactly the right time of the season.