Friday 20 April 2018

Sherwood tries to find positives from last-gasp defeat

Manchester city 3 Aston Villa 2

Aston Villa manager Tim Sherwood saw plenty reason for encouragement in his side's 3-2 defeat against Manchester City on Saturday
Aston Villa manager Tim Sherwood saw plenty reason for encouragement in his side's 3-2 defeat against Manchester City on Saturday
Fernandinho celebrates scoring the winning goal for Manchester City in their dramatic late victory over Aston Villa last night
Sergio Aguero capitalises on Aston Villa goalkeeper Brad Guzan's mistake to open the scoring at the Etihad yesterday

Jon Culley

Manchester City thrillingly secured the late victory which all but secured their qualification for the Champions League; Aston Villa saw a precious point, so courageously fought for, slip through their hands in their desperate battle to avoid relegation.

Such are the slender margins of the Premier League.

The results preceding the Saturday evening match - with Hull City and Leicester City winning - should have been a jolt to the system for Villa whose supporters began the encounter by chanting about "going to Wembley" while their team started as if they only had their thoughts on that FA Cup final, surrendering a comical goal.

It came through a howler by goalkeeper Brad Guzan who scuffed the ball against his standing leg as he tried to deal with a backpass from Ron Vlaar.

The ball then trickled across the face of his goal straight to Sergio Aguero, who gleefully swept it into the net for his 21st Premier League goal of the season.

Now it was the turn of the City fans to chant, remorselessly turning on Guzan with a chorus of "There's only one Shay Given" about their own former goalkeeper, who was sitting on the Villa bench.

The visitors had been lax, casual and were behind and struggling badly not to fall further in arrears. A shot from David Silva was blocked, Jesus Navas was crowded out and then Guzan held a low drive from Aguero.

But the goalkeeper was clearly affected by his mistake and completely missed a free-kick swung in by Aleksandar Kolarov. Fortunately for him, Fernando could not steer his header into the unguarded net.

Villa could not cope with City simply pressing their defenders and again they lost the ball with it being ferried by Frank Lampard to Navas whose shot was charged down.

Out of nothing, however, Villa were presented with a clear chance to draw level when Vlaar's shot was stopped by Pablo Zabaleta's diving tackle only for the ball to ricochet straight to Christian Benteke.

Suddenly the in-form striker, onside because the ball had been played by Zabaleta, had only Joe Hart to beat but the goalkeeper superbly parried his low effort with his legs.

But the incident did swing the momentum. With Jack Grealish dropping deeper to collect possession, there was suddenly more fluidity to Villa and Tom Cleverley was unfortunate when he met Kieran Richardson's cross but was unable to keep the ball down.

Villa were surprisingly in the ascendancy which was to their credit given how poorly they had began the game when they were overwhelmed.

Grealish continued to orchestrate with City living dangerously by not tracking the teenager when he was out of possession.

It was now the home side who appeared leaden.

Villa breathed a sigh of relief when Leandro Bacuna escaped the concession of a penalty, and possibly a red card, after tugging back Aguero inside the area as he ran to reach a cross.

City went further ahead on 66 minutes when Kolarov's curling effort from a free-kick 30 yards out beat Guzan and nestled in the net after Richardson had ducked in the wall.

Cleverley gave Villa a lifeline two minutes later and with five minutes of the 90 remaining they deservedly equalised. Hart failed to clear a corner, under pressure from Vlaar, and the ball fell to Sanchez who simply hooked it into the net.

But they could not hold on. After Benteke was wrongly flagged offside, when through on goal, City then won a corner which was allowed to come through to Fernandinho who chested the ball down and acrobatically turned it into the net.

With just four games remaining Villa are only two points above the bottom three and three of the sides below them have a game in hand, but manager Tim Sherwood saw plenty of reason for encouragement.

He said: "If we play like that we will be OK.

"I think we played well and certainly deserved something.

"We are not afraid to get on the ball and we showed bravery in all areas.

"We got on it and moved it around.

"We are bitterly disappointed but take a lot of positives from the performance." (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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