Wednesday 21 February 2018

Iheanacho's treble keeps City fighting on all fronts

Aston Villa 0 Manchester City 4

Raheem Sterling of Manchester City scores his team’s fourth goal during the FA Cup Fourth Round match against Aston Villa yesterday. Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images
Raheem Sterling of Manchester City scores his team’s fourth goal during the FA Cup Fourth Round match against Aston Villa yesterday. Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images
Aston Villa's Micah Richards in action with Manchester City's Kelechi Iheanacho. Reuters / Darren Staples
Aston Villa fans gesture towards Manchester City's Fabian Delph. Reuters / Darren Staples Livepic

Paul Wilson

'We're not really here," sang the Manchester City fans in the North Stand, as is their wont. They were, of course; the away end was packed. Unlike the Doug Ellis Stand and even the sparsely populated Holte End.

It was the Aston Villa fans who were not really here, judging an FA Cup tie superfluous in this most trying of Premier League seasons - and when their side went a goal down in less than four minutes, it was difficult to blame them. Remi Garde had pointed out in the match programme that City were his first opponents as Villa manager, and on that day, back in November, the relegation strugglers had been greatly encouraged by a fighting 0-0 draw in a game they were expected to lose. That had been against a full-strength City side, too.

The visitors made a few changes here, notably resting Sergio Agüero to allow Kelechi Iheanacho to lead the attack and, from the first corner of the game, the Nigerian teenager had put his side in front. At least he had if Fernando did not get there first.

When Bacary Sagna headed on Fabian Delph's corner at the near post, the Brazilian met the flick at the far post with a powerful header. It was blocked on the line, but might already have crossed - though before there was time to launch an appeal, Iheanacho had swept in the loose ball, just to be on the safe side.

City's second goal, midway through the first half, was definitely Iheanacho's. He confidently sent Brad Guzan the wrong way from the penalty spot after Leandro Bacuna was adjudged to have shoved Raheem Sterling in the area. Whether there was sufficient contact or intent to warrant a penalty was more debatable, but Sterling went flying instead of reaching Jesús Navas's cross and Michael Jones found in City's favour.

Having decided it was a foul, the referee could have dismissed Bacuna, but chose not to, probably reasoning that Sterling was not certain to score - although he might have thought Villa were suffering enough and the paying customers did not deserve to see an even more one-sided game. He did book Bacuna, along with Sterling, after a minor spat between the pair a couple of minutes later.

Villa's only effort of note in a first half accurately summed up by one disgruntled home supporter queuing for a half-time drink as 'men against boys' was a late shot by Senegalese international Idrissa Gana. It was comfortably gathered by the under-employed Willy Caballero, though replays suggested it might have been going wide of the target anyway. The unappetising second-half dilemma facing Villa was whether to get the game over as quickly and painlessly as possible, or try to get back into it and have City send on Agüero and David Silva.

Better finishing from Sterling would have put them out of their misery as the game approached the hour mark, but he put one attempt too close to Guzan from Fernandinho's right-wing cross, then could only head over the bar when stretching to reach a similar ball from Navas. Carles Gil brought a decent save from Caballero with a curling free-kick before two goals in as many minutes killed any semblance of a contest and sent a few more home fans towards the exits. Iheanacho's hat-trick came courtesy of a dreadful back pass from Gana, inviting the striker to run into an empty half and beat Guzan at his leisure, though it must be said he did so with some aplomb. Iheanacho was even involved in the fourth, when his acrobatic overhead kick did not quite come off, but fell perfectly for Sterling to bundle in.

Garde looked rueful but resigned, though the FA Cup is not the biggest battle last year's runners-up face this season, and everyone seemed to know it.


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