Supersub Aguero strikes late to put smile on Mancini's face as City keep knockout dream alive
Manchester City 2
Now here is an Argentine striker who knows how to come off the Manchester City bench and have an immense impact in the Champions League. Sergio Aguero rose from the dugout to breathe life back into City's European dream just when it seemed close to expiring.
It was the last seconds of the last minute of injury-time when Carlos Tevez's compatriot pounced, giving City a victory they hardly deserved. As Aguero celebrated, Roberto Mancini punched the air in delight, and Villarreal seethed at the referee, City must have known they had escaped.
The visitors had been good, well-organised, and defensively well-drilled. It spoke volumes that City's best player had been their left-back, Aleksandar Kolarov. But Aguero knows the way to goal and he was perfectly placed here, totally transforming City's Champions League campaign.
City still have plenty of work to do, first at Villarreal on November 2 and then Napoli on November 22 before Bayern Munich visit the Etihad on December 7. The Germans should have qualified comfortably by then and will certainly bring more fans than Villarreal, who had not sold one ticket: the few hardy souls in the away section were ex-pat walk-ups.
All 20 of them were going crazy within four minutes as Villarreal seized a shock lead. They then sat deep and thwarted City in the first half until Kolarov forced Carlos Marchena into an own goal.
Until Mancini's seemingly controversial substitution of Adam Johnson, City had lacked tempo in attack. They were certainly too sluggish when Villarreal came calling early.
Former Manchester United striker Giuseppe Rossi demanded a low stop from Joe Hart, who should have punched the ball clear; instead, he fumbled, the ball tumbling into the path of Ruben Cani, who slid it emphatically underneath him and in.
Villarreal were effectively 4-1-4-1 with Bruno Soriano holding and Rossi the impressive lone striker, soon demonstrating the type of form that made him such a force last season with a wriggling turn away from Vincent Kompany.
Facing suffocation under the visitors' yellow blanket, David Silva and Samir Nasri kept dropping deep, looking for the ball, but found the visitors in obdurate mood. Jose Catala was cautioned for attempting to run down the clock -- with an hour to go.
Mancini was growing increasingly frustrated, patrolling the technical area in animated mood. He withdrew Johnson, who looked surprised, departing with a slight shake of the head, although this seemed more disappointment, then dissent. He rejigged his attack, sending Silva right, Nasri left and pushing Yaya Toure through the middle. "We wanted to get Yaya closer to (Edin) Dzeko,'' said coach David Platt.
Gareth Barry stepped into midfield, and what had seemed a strange substitution swiftly proved inspired.
As Johnson settled back in his seat, casting a quizzical look at Gael Clichy and receiving a sympathetic pat from James Milner, City equalised.
Silva and Nasri combined, and the Frenchman slipped the ball left to the overlapping Kolarov. His angled cross was aimed for Dzeko, who was speeding into the six-yard box. Marchena, desperately seeking to stop the ball reaching Dzeko, slid in and accidentally turned it past Diego Lopez. Two minutes from half-time and it was Poznan time.
City fans almost had more to celebrate when their revitalised team again attacked. Silva sent Dzeko down the inside-right channel but Lopez saved. Villarreal's 'keeper was immediately involved as the second half started, pushing away a Dzeko volley. A point was insufficient. City had to win.
Just after the hour-mark, Aguero arrived, Nigel De Jong going off. Yet the main source of inspiration again was Kolarov, who stood up a cross to the far-post but his team-mates were too timid.
The Serbian international then looked to close down the darting Rossi but pulled back. Rossi's response was embarrassing, throwing himself to the ground and earning a rebuke from Hart and a caution from the Czech referee Pavel Kralovec. Villarreal were defending nimbly, occasionally illegally. Borja Valero baulked Silva.
Suddenly a window of opportunity opened. Aguero ignored the run of Kolarov, instead sliding the ball right to Dzeko, who fired wildly wide.
"Come on, City,'' implored the fans. Kolarov again teed up an inviting ball, lifting it towards Dzeko, whose header was so poor, drifting wide.
But with seconds left, Pablo Zabaleta's angled cross from the right was met by Aguero. Relief flooded through the Etihad. (© Daily Telegraph, London)