Watford’s Premier League fate will not to be decided by results such as today’s 2-0 defeat at Manchester City, but the Hornets’ search for their first Premier League win goes on following what the majority of neutral observers would have viewed as a predictable first loss following three consecutive draws.

If the aim of Quique Sanchez Flores’ men was to contain and frustrate the league leaders, they succeeded for 45 goalless minutes. The visitors’ back five was excellent as they defended resolutely and in disciplined fashion, with every member of the team contributing to positive effect in that regard.

Within ten minutes of the second half though, City effectively had a fourth straight league victory – and a club record tenth in succession – in the bag.

Raheem Sterling opened his Etihad Stadium account from close range, applying the decisive touch to a Bacary Sagna cross, before Fernandinho rifled home the former champions’ second following a fine reverse pass from David Silva.

It may be wrong to judge Watford’s attacking efforts on an away game at the best side in the country on early-season evidence but the plain fact is Joe Hart did not have a save to make and Troy Deeney again cut a frustrated figure at times as he was again left to plough a lone furrow up front.

There was the sense that City could have scored more if they wished but they seemed largely content to settle for their lot, although Watford did venture further forward as the second half progressed.

Flores made just the one change to last Saturday’s third successive Premier League draw at home to Southampton, bringing in Almen Abdi for his first top-flight start of the campaign in place of Ikechi Anya. The Scotland international dropped to a bench that also included Matej Vydra following his fruitless first 90 minutes of the season in Tuesday’s Carling Cup defeat at Preston North End.

For Manuel Pellegrini it was a case of leaving well alone as he named an unchanged starting line-up from the side that made it three Premier League wins out of three against Everton last time out.

City were quickly out of the traps, winning their first corner inside the opening two minutes but the Hornets saw off that threat as they sought to gain a foothold in the contest.

Good tracking back from Abdi then enabled him to knock the ball safely back to Heurelho Gomes as he intercepted Stirling’s attempted pass to David Silva on the edge of the 18-yard box.

A Sergio Aguero blocked shot aside, there was little else in the way of goalmouth action until the 15th minute when Watford had their first promising sight of the City goal having settled into the contest well. Jose Manuel Jurado flighted a corner from the left into the near post where Craig Cathcart’s initial effort was blocked and then Sebastian Prodl saw his follow-up deflected behind for another set piece.

The next opportunity came the home side’s way when Odion Ighalo was penalised for a foul to the right of centre outside his own penalty area, around 20 yards out. But Aleksandar Kolarov was unable to keep his left-footed curling effort down and it comfortably cleared Gomes’ bar.

Cathcart then came to his side’s rescue in the 24th minute when he made a fine sliding challenge as Sterling prepared to pull the trigger after the former Liverpool man had been slipped in by Yaya Toure, who had won the ball when Jurado was outnumbered.

Gomes had to drop sharply to his left to hold onto a low angled drive from Sagna as the home side upped the ante midway through the first half, before the Brazilian keeper made an even better stop to parry behind a Sterling effort after the England international had taken on and beat Etienne Capoue around the outside.

Jurado was fortunate his team were not punished when he gave the ball away to Fernandinho in the 34th minute as the Hornets briefly found themselves outnumbered at the back. But after the ball had been worked to Aguero, his right-footed shot was blocked.

The Argentine striker was closer with his next attempt, flashing a right-footed drive not too far wide of Gomes’ right-hand upright from the edge of the penalty area in the 39th minute.

Referee Mark Clattenburg hadn’t had a great deal to do in the first half but he did get his yellow card out five minutes before the break to caution City skipper Vincent Kompany after he went through the back of Jurado. However, the card count was quickly levelled up when Allan Nyom went into Clattenburg’s notebook for a foul on Stirling.

Pellegrini suggested he was not overly happy with his side’s first-half display by making a change at the start of the second period, bringing on Samir Nasri for Jesus Navas, whose last involvement of note had been to slice an attempted shot wildly out of play for a throw.

The Hornets had been excellent defensively in the first half but they were caught out within two minutes of the restart when Sterling scored his first goal in City colours, getting first run on the visitors’ centre-half pairing to guide a fine right-sided delivery from Sagna past Gomes from inside the six-yard box to make it 1-0.

There were more problems for the visitors in the 55th minute when Valon Behrami bundled over Nasri just outside the edge of the D after playing a neat one-two with Sterling. It initially looked like Watford would survive unscathed as Toure’s free-kick hit the top of the wall before spinning towards the right side of the penalty area. However, the ball was latched onto by Fernandinho, who played it into Silva and the diminutive Spaniard played a fine reverse pass back out to his teammate to lash a shot across and beyond Gomes to double City’s advantage.

Toure fired wide from distance before Flores decided to make his first change in the 62nd minute, bringing on Anya for Abdi.

Prodl could have few complaints about the yellow card he received soon after for a late challenge on Aguero and from the resultant free-kick Silva curled his effort the wrong side of Gomes’ left-hand upright.

Watford had been unable to offer little as an attacking force for much of the contest but in the 66th minute it almost clicked; Jurado’s neat pass inside dummied by Deeney to Anya, whose first-time effort was deflected behind by a good Sagna block.

Miguel Layun replaced Ighalo with 18 minutes remaining as the Hornets were willing to stretch the game some more, asking a few more questions of the City defence as a result.

Silva’s afternoon came to end with 16 minutes to go when he was replaced by Fabian Delph, while Ben Watson came on soon after for Capoue, ending Vydra’s hopes of getting on as his team’s number of games without scoring looked set to extend to a fourth game in all competitions.

Nasri tried to make it three with a right-footed curler as the game entered the closing stages but Gomes was equal to it, parrying the ball to safety.

Play then switched to the other end of the pitch where Layun tried to open up a shooting opportunity for himself but snatched his effort well wide of the target.

Kelechi Iheancho came on for his City debut with two minutes of normal time remaining in place of Sterling and his first real involvement was to foul Behrami before squaring up to him as City closed out the game as comfortable victors.

Manchester City: Hart; Sagna, Kompany, Mangala, Kolarov; Fernandinho, Toure; Navas (Nasri 46), Silva (Delph 74), Sterling (Iheancho 88); Aguero. Not used: Caballero, Demichelis, Maffao, Roberts.

Watford: Gomes; Nyom, Prodl, Cathcart, Holebas; Capoue (Watson 76), Behrami; Abdi (Anya 62), Jurado, Ighalo (Layun 72); Deeney. Not used: Arlauskis, Vydra, Diamanti, Hoban.

Bookings: Kompany for a foul on Jurado (40); Nyom for a foul on Sterling (44); Prodl for a foul on Aguero (63).

Attendance: 53,202.

Referee: Mark Clattenburg.