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Aston Villa raid leaves Roberto Mancini red-faced

The stuff streaming down Roberto Mancini's face was rain rather than sweat but when analysing how his side came to be knocked out of the League Cup at the first hurdle last night, the Manchester City manager will feel very uncomfortable.

Once more, his defence was found wanting, once more a lead was lost -- this time to an Aston Villa side that performed way above expectations.

This was a game that was meandering its way to a predictable home win when Manchester City's defensive frailties turned the match on its head.

When Charles N'Zogbia turned home Gabriel Agbonlahor's half-saved shot, Mancini, who had earlier argued extensively with his opposite number, Paul Lambert, marched towards his players, his mood unforgiving.

When Agbonlahor curled the fourth past Costel Pantilimon, Lambert leapt into the air and the ground emptied. This, for all kinds of reasons, is a competition that matters.

Manchester City are no longer a club that deals in "weakened teams" and it is a measure of their depth that Abdul Razak, one of the young men Mancini turned to last night, had the squad number 62. Had Jack Rodwell not injured himself in the warm-up, City would have fielded an entirely different side to the one that had drawn with Arsenal here just over 48 hours before.

It still meant that those who defied the rain that had pounded and shrouded the city during those two days saw the thrilling if entirely combustible partnership of Mario Balotelli and Carlos Tevez; a combination that, even if you accept the conservative valuation of how much City paid for the Argentinian, cost £48m.


Balotelli scored with his first real chance. James Milner, like Gareth Barry, facing a club that has dwindled considerably since he left it, played the ball in to Balotelli and he beat Shay Given as emphatically as he had beaten him while playing for Italy in Poznan for his first goal since the night he had dazzled a continent by eliminating Germany in the semi-finals of the Euro 2012.

That, wrongly, looked to be pretty much that. Having failed to manage an away win for eight months, Aston Villa are not travelling well and since they have lost nine of their 10 previous matches at City, they travel particularly badly to the blue half of Manchester. Instead of Tevez and Balotelli, Paul Lambert had to make do with the combination of Andreas Weimann and Christian Benteke, a forward whom the Villa manager had reckoned "unplayable" on his debut against Swansea.

The tie appeared to be drawing reasonably peacefully to its close when suddenly it exploded in everyone's face. There was no real threat when Weimann delivered another cross but Pantilimon, who perhaps understandably given he could not expect many chances in City's goal looked nervy, failed to deal with it. The ball cannoned into Barry's knee before looping into the net. To the mortification of the player and the delight of the fans he had abandoned, the travelling support was a few yards away.

Within minutes, the fires appeared to have been stamped out as Aleksandar Kolarov, whose free-kicks are more accurate than Roberto Carlos, sent one screeching past Given. These days, however, Manchester City have lost the art of closing out games and their defensive statistics would embarrass any Italian, let alone Mancini.

Agbonlahor ran at the centre of their defence and simply kept on running until he had scored to take the tie into extra-time. (© Independent News Service)

Irish Independent