City frustrated as Villa revival begins

Darren Bent scores on his Aston Villa debut as Manchester City drop vital points in the Premier League. 

Bent celebrates his debut goal
(Picture courtesy of Sky Sports)

When the January transfer window is in full-swing, it is sometimes possible to forget that matches are actually played in the first month of the new year. Darren Bent’s transfer from high-flying Sunderland to relegation battling Aston Villa mystified many but mainly angered Black Cats boss Steve Bruce, yet it was the striker who scored the only goal of the game at Villa Park.
Manager Gerard Houllier didn’t waste any time in testing out his new acquisition, putting Bent up front on his own, although Gabriel Agbonlahor, Ashley Young and Marc Albrighton were all quick to support when needed.

The build-up to the game had largely involved the comparison of Bent and Manchester City new-boy Edin Dzeko as both have been signed for fees of potentially £20 million upwards and both have superb scoring records in their respective leagues. The game, though, was not a match for attacking play. Villa were resolute and determined at the back and broke away on the counter-attack well, while City, by and large, struggled to create clear-cut chances and, when they did, they were wasted by a rather off-colour Carlos Tevez as well as lacklustre attacking options.

Villa, though, deserve a lot of credit. The central defensive partnership of Richard Dunne and James Collins seemed unbreakable for large parts of the game while, on either side of the defence, Carlos Cuellar and Ciaran Clark were solid defensively and useful going forward.

Roberto Mancini’s side’s defence, in comparison, has looked very frail in recent weeks, conceding seven goals in their last three games and the defence was again at fault for the opening goal. A misunderstanding inside City’s half meant that Young could pounce on the loose ball and, after his low shot was well saved by Joe Hart, Bent, in true poacher fashion, tapped home from four yards as the Villans welcomed a new hero.

City needed a response and they almost got one through centre-back Vincent Kompany, but the Belgian’s header was well dealt with by ‘keeper Brad Friedel who calmly tipped the ball over the bar. The chance had come from an Aleksander Kolarov corner and it was his set-pieces that were causing the most havoc inside the Villa penalty area, although Gareth Barry went close with a header just before the break in a first half lacking in chances.

City’s passing (see chalkboard below) was much better than Villa’s in the first half (85% pass completion for the Blues and 65% for Houllier’s side) but the team struggling at the bottom of the table very much frustrated the title-challenging club in the first half. Mancini’s side were successful in their passing in the middle of the pitch but, because of Villa’s set-up, they struggled to get into the final third and, when they did, the final ball wasn’t good enough.

 by Guardian Chalkboards

At the start of the second half, City attempted to get the ball forward a lot quicker with Tevez volleying hopelessly wide just a minute after the break after Nigel De Jong’s simple ball over the top.

Manchester City have been described as one-dimensional this season and, with their centralised set-up clearly failing, Mancini decided to haul Gareth Barry off for winger Adam Johnson, much to the delight of Villa fans who gave their former captain a lot of stick throughout the match. The substitution meant that City were slightly uneven in their formation, with Johnson operating mainly out on the right wing while David Silva and Yaya Toure pushed up through the middle. De Jong did a fine job in sitting as a defensive midfielder in what was his first meeting with referee Howard Webb after the infamous World Cup final (which saw the Dutchman sent off by Webb) but, with Kolarov unable to break forward quite as often and quickly as he would have liked, Dzeko was pulled out wide, leaving Tevez on his own up front.

The difference was that Villa had two hard-working wingers and two competent full-backs. Both Albrighton and Agbonlahor were happy to defend as well as push forward on the counter-attack, while Clark and Cuellar made for very difficult opposition for any player on the City wings.

Young continued in his central role at home for Villa and it was from this position that he nearly scored after sixty-five minutes. After getting away from De Jong twenty-five-year-old fired a shot towards the bottom corner of Hart’s goal, only for the England number one to thwart his international teammate with a fine stop.

While Villa were resilient defensively, they were not so radiant going forward especially in-so-far as the final ball. Albrighton (see chalkboard below) was particularly poor at times, getting into decent positions only to waste it by putting in a disappointing cross, the worst one coming with twenty minutes to go, firing over everyone in the box with Bent in a good goalscoring position.
The game seemed to dwindle out after the seventieth minute, although a De Jong effort from 20 yards would have crept into the bottom corner had it not been for the fortunate Clark. It was Villa, though, who had the final chance of the match, Young going close from three yards after good build-up play.

The win means that Villa are now three points above the relegation zone and, with Wigan, Blackpool and Blackburn all three of the four upcoming fixtures for Houllier, it looks as if the turn-around could be in full-swing in a few weeks time. City now lie third in the table, now three points behind local rivals Manchester United who have a game in hand, the first of which is Blackpool on Tuesday.

The result doesn’t mean that Villa’s problems are over, but a strong defensive performance against a good attacking side such as Manchester City is certainly promising and, if Houllier can hold on to players such as Young, Downing and Agbonlahor and get them all back to top-form, Villa could have a ferocious front-line, spearheaded by the eighteen million pound man – Darren Bent.

Aston Villa 1 – 0 Manchester City
Bent (18)

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