Saturday 16 December 2017

Fernandinho strikes late to spare misfiring City's blushes

Manchester City 3 Aston Villa 2

Fernandinho celebrates scoring the winning goal for Manchester City in their dramatic late victory over Aston Villa last night
Fernandinho celebrates scoring the winning goal for Manchester City in their dramatic late victory over Aston Villa last night
Aston Villa's Carlos Sanchez celebrates his goal during against Manchester City
Sergio Aguero capitalises on Aston Villa goalkeeper Brad Guzan's mistake to open the scoring at the Etihad yesterday

Paul Wilson

David Cameron, if you are still a Villan that is, after your frankly ludicrous dalliance with the Irons, your boys took a hell of a beating. Actually they didn't. That was just a topical reference. Aston Villa were quite good for much of this game, and a little unlucky not to take something out of it. But in common with the British leader, they suffered a 'brainfade' that people will be tittering about for years, putting themselves on the back foot before the contest had properly started.

Villa might be going to Wembley, but the fans singing that happy tune had the smiles wiped off their faces as Sergio Aguero stepped up to put City in front with virtually his first touch of the ball. Tim Sherwood's side are not yet in the sort of league position to give away comedy goals less than three minutes into games, yet that is what happened. Aguero will probably never score an easier goal, after being handed the opportunity on a plate by a miskick from Brad Guzan.

The Villa goalkeeper fielded a backpass from Ron Vlaar on one side of his area and was attempting to feed it out to Jores Okore on the other. His miskick invited Aguero to run in and find an empty net from near the spot, which he did as the Villa defenders stared at each other.

A bad start could easily have got worse for the visitors had Jesus Navas been able to demonstrate speed of thought as well as foot when he was played in behind the Villa cover minutes later. The Spaniard was bearing down on goal before Villa were fully awake to the danger, but, as happens quite often, he was unable to be decisive about whether to pass or shoot, and Kieran Richardson came back to block him while he was still making up his mind. Guzan, jeered every time he had to deal with the ball on the floor, was also showing signs of nervousness, coming out to claim an Aleksandar Kolarov free-kick and missing it by a mile to let Fernando get in a header.

Villa managed to reach the interval without further mishap, however, even creating a couple of chances of their own around the half-hour mark. Joe Hart saved with his legs when Christian Benteke shot from what looked an offside position, though the flag remained down. And when Richardson sent over a cross from the left, Tom Cleverley reached it first but could not keep his attempt low. Jack Grealish showed up well as Villa came back into the game, at one point showing a change of direction so swift it left Martin Demichelis on his backside, but mostly demanding the ball in the centre of the pitch, then transferring it neatly to the flanks. By the time the break arrived, Villa had recovered to the extent of looking the side most likely to score next.

They were not exactly peppering Hart's goal, but they were doing more than the home side, who were inviting the sort of ennui with which the Etihad has become familiar this season by stroking the ball around midfield without any urgency or threat of penetration. Frank Lampard tried on a couple of occasions to play through balls for Aguero to run on to, though neither player appeared able to read the other's intentions. It was dull, unimaginative stuff, and Sherwood probably spent the interval telling his players City were there for the taking.

That impression would have been reinforced when Yaya Toure failed to come out for the second half, though in truth his contribution to the first had been minimal. With the game in the balance awaiting another goal, Fabian Delph stroked a volley narrowly wide at one end, while Leandro Bacuna got away with tugging Aguero over in the penalty area at the other. Lampard made way for James Milner after an hour, just in time for the latter to play a part in City's second goal. Presented with a free-kick when Carlos Sanchez fouled Fernandinho 20 yards out, Milner dummied to shoot to one side of the goal then let Kolarov find the other with a left-foot shot round the edge of the wall. Whether Guzan was fooled is debatable, but he left fractionally too much space to his left and was late to get down to a low and accurate short.

That ought to have made the game safe, but the contest was thrown wide open two minutes later when Cleverley beat Hart with a drive from the edge of the area as City scrambled to clear a free-kick. Hart had left his line to claim the ball and been left in no man's land when Fernandinho headed it out instead, but only to Cleverley. City withdrew Aguero for Wilfried Bony but the points were still not safe. An unconvincing mix-up at a corner five minutes from the end saw Hart collide with his own defenders as he attempted to punch clear, succeeding only in finding Sanchez, who came up with a volley right on target from close to the penalty spot.

A draw would not have been unfair on either side, but City were stirred to go upfield and claim a late winner. Villa left Fernandinho unmarked at a corner, and though his first touch was inconclusive, he turned his second into an acrobatic shot that gave Guzan no chance.


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