Tevez stops City waving white flag
Aston Villa 0 Man City 1
Manchester City refuse to surrender their Premier League trophy easily. A goal from Carlos Tevez cut Manchester United's lead to 12 points but Roberto Mancini's champions had to fight hard, resisting a late surge from Aston Villa, who remain embroiled in the relegation fight.
City fans again sang passionately in support of Mancini, who made a decision midway through the first half that helped his team gain the initiative and ultimately the lead. When Jack Rodwell damaged a hamstring after 24 minutes, Mancini could have sent on another midfielder like Gareth Barry.
Instead, City's manager inserted Edin Dzeko in attack, working with Tevez, and pulling Yaya Toure back into midfield. Toure was superb raiding forward. Dzeko pressed Villa's defence, particularly Ciaran Clark, creating the stage for Tevez's goal.
Clark's mistake reflected familiar Villa woes. There is a youthful exuberance to Paul Lambert's side but the lack of experience continues to cost them. There were still some elements to admire, notably an energetic contribution from Fabian Delph but they need to cut out the mistakes if they are to avoid relegation. Delph was booked late on, bringing his 10th yellow card of the season, meaning he is out of the basement battles with Reading and Queens Park Rangers.
Let down by a mistake that allowed Tevez to score just before the break, Villa had actually started promisingly, pressurising City. Joe Hart came out and punched the ball upwards, creating brief concern. Gabby Agbonlahor then crossed from the left, forcing Kolo Toure into a headed clearance as Christian Benteke lurked. From a Charles N'Zogbia corner, Benteke made strong contact again, powering a header goalwards but Tevez cleared calmly off the line.
Tevez was starting upfront because Sergio Aguero had injured a knee in training. It took time for City to fully worry Villa. Rodwell, initially partnering Javi Garcia in deep midfield, did try a shot but Brad Guzan pushed the ball over. Rodwell then limped off, rubbing his left hamstring.
He must have run over a few black cats in his time.
Mancini made that positive response to the midfielder's incapacitation, sending on Dzeko to lead the line and pulling Yaya Toure back alongside Garcia. The move seemed to inspire City. Yaya Toure began surging forward from deeper, brushing aside Ashley Westwood. David Silva became involved, cushioning a header to Pablo Zabaleta, who was his usual busy self up and down the right, enjoying a good duel with Gabby Agbonlahor.
City fans, having joined in the minute's salute to Stiliyan Petrov, were soon being given plenty to sing about in the final 15 minutes of the half.
Attacking the Holte End, City placed Guzan's goal under increasing siege.
After Clark fouled Tevez, James Milner placed the free-kick through a Villa wall that had all the resistance of a line of washing. Fortunately for Villa, Guzan ran across to catch the ball.
The American needed to be at his best to keep City at bay. Yaya Toure and Silva combined, working the ball to Zabaleta, whose shot was pushed on to a post by Guzan. Villa's last line of defence then denied Tevez two-handed.
Silva then invited Dzeko to turn and shoot but this time Guzan's right hand kept the ball out.
After a brief but entertaining wrestling bout between Kolo Toure and Benteke, the game seemed to be idling towards the interval. Then Clark slipped, attempting an over-ambitious turn in possession with Dzeko bearing down on him. Villa's captain appealed to Mike Dean claiming that Dzeko fouled him but contact came after Clark was on the slide. Dzeko promptly passed to Tevez, who calmly rounded Guzan and stroked the ball in.
Lambert looked on in frustration. Maybe he knew the record of the respective teams this season. City had not lost any of their previous 14 Premier League games when they scored first while Villa had not won any of the 13 Premier League matches where they conceded first.
City almost added a second eight minutes after the break. Dzeko and Tevez pressured Matthew Lowton into losing the ball, Tevez ran across the box, opening up a yard of space and beating Guzan with a firm shot. Lowton had reacted well, dropping back to clear from under the bar. City attacked again, hunting a second, refusing to give up the chase of United. Milner and Clichy linked well down the left but Dzeko had his shot blocked.
Villa broke out, Andreas Weimann whipping in a cross that Agbonlahor met first but his header rebounded off Kolo Toure and over the bar.
Villa were still making defensive mistakes. Nathan Baker fouled Yaya Toure but Tevez's free-kick could not elude the wall.
It was not a great game. There were too many errors. City did get the ball back in Villa's net. Yaya Toure's shot hit the post, rebounded out and Dzeko placed it back in but the Bosnian was clearly offside.
Villa remained full of running and hope but their judgement was too faulty at times. Brett Holman decided to continue infield rather than look for Weimann's clever run down the inside-right channel.
City tried to kill off Villa. From Silva's corner, Garcia sent his volley wide but the ball was soon down the other end. Benteke screamed for a penalty when caught by Matija Nastasic. Villa still poured forward and it required a headed clearance from Kolo Toure to rescue City. (© Daily Telegraph, London)