Visitors pay the price for sub-standard finishing
Darren Bent’s simple tap-in after Joe Hart parried Ashley Young’s goal-bound effort proved the decisive moment in a game that was notable for its lack of clear cut chances.
With the skeptics questioning the rather hefty price tag Bent came with, Gerard Houllier will be much relieved with his new charge’s great start to his career in the Midlands.
With City failing to break down a staunchly resolute defense it proved a frustrating afternoon for their attacking players and leaves Roberto Mancini’s men three points off league leaders Manchester United, who have two games in hand.
Aston Villa, meanwhile, put some more space between themselves and the relegation area and will hope to have turned the corner after this much-needed victory.
The game started insipidly with both teams struggling to assert any authority. Niggling fouls and bitty play was symbolic of the game’s opening exchanges with City looking threatening from a few early set pieces.
Aleksander Kolarov’s vicious delivery from both corners and free-kicks in and around the box caused Villa all sorts of problems. Firstly, when a corner dropped to Yaya Toure, he smashed it way over the bar, but then one was swung in from the other side and, with the goal gaping; Carlos Tevez swung his leg yet, missed the ball and connected with an air shot
Aston Villa were sparked into life following that close encounter. Young picked the ball up inside the City half then drove towards the penalty area. He unleashed a right-footed bending effort that was destined to nestle in the far corner, yet Hart’s parry fell straight to the feet of Bent who gleefully tucked the ball into the unguarded net.
City responded in the only way they seemed able to in this game, with Kolarov swinging in another corner straight onto the head of Vincent Kompany, who forced Brad Friedel into a smart, close-range save.
Young continued to look enterprising, switching from flank to flank and with City’s creative contingent being largely subdued, the England man was the game’s main spark in the opening half hour.
The visitors, though, remained the prevailing presence in the game, with all their threats coming from the left boot of Kolarov. The full-back perhaps put a bit too much behind a whipped cross that narrowly evaded David Silva and was just a little too high for Tevez.
City came within inches of securing an equaliser when Jerome Boetang’s ball in from the wide was glanced goalwards by Gareth Barry. Though, with a free header, you would have expected him to at least work Friedel, but with the keeper beaten, the ball flashed past the wrong side of the post.
With Villa tending to sit deep and attempt to hit City on the counter-attack, the visitors began to dominate possession in a manner that indicated that a goal could come sooner rather than later.
Young attempted a screamer from 25-yards out, but his effort never really troubled Hart, who gathered the ball with reasonable ease. He was then forced into an identical save when Stewart Downing fired in a free-kick from a similar range, moments before the teams were called in for the interval.
Perfect start | Bent's debut goal was decisive in the end
Manchester City started the second half with the same attacking plan that they utilised in the first. Once again, Kolarov’s delivery caused trouble in the Villa box, this time, with the ball slightly behind him, Edin Dzeko could only guide the ball over the bar.
The hosts seemed content to sit back and allow the somewhat uninspiring visitors more than their fair share of possession. This seemed a dangerous ploy though, with Dzeko providing little innovation inside the box, but bringing in his team-mates by holding the ball up well.
In an attempt to coax some invention out of his team, Roberto Mancini took off roundly-booed ex-Villa man Barry and sent on Adam Johnson.
His impact was almost immediately felt when he started off a nice passage of interplay around the hosts' box. After the ball pinged around, it fell to Boateng, whose full-blooded drive cannoned through a body of players and forced Friedel into making a difficult save considering the swerve on the ball
Villa carried on looking decent on the counter. When Downing drove the ball in from the right, Gabby Agbonlahor bizarrely chose to let the ball run past him, presumably to allow Bent an easier effort on goal, yet the strikers were not on the same wavelength and the chance went begging.
Young continued to impress and once again tested Hart’s capabilities with a superbly struck long distance effort that skidded off the ground, after beating Nigel de Jong. The England keeper was equal to it though, diving full stretch to his right, to guide the ball behind for a corner.
Struggling to break down a resolute home defense, City were forced to attempt more and more speculative efforts on goal. After retaining possession in the final third, Kolarov snatched at a shot from 20 yards out, before Johnson struck high and wide from a similar position.
During a rare foray into the Villa penalty box, the ball dropped to Tevez eight yards out but James Collins flew out of nowhere to put in a crucial block. Big shouts of handball went up from City players and fans alike, but in fact Collins blocked fantastically with his midriff.
As the game entered the last 10 minutes, it was certainly more a case of the hosts holding on, rather than pushing for a second. Again threatening from a corner the ball fell to De Jong on the edge of the box and his drive was marginally blocked by Cieran Clark and rolled agonizingly onto the post.
From the resulting play, Dzeko should have done much better when his header glanced wide and Kolarov had another effort blocked as the visitors desperately searched for an equaliser.
It wasn’t to be though, and despite their utter dominance of the closing stages, Villa held on to record a much-needed win.
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