Manchester City reduced their deficit at the top of the Premier League table back to 12 points with a hard-fought 1-0 victory at Aston Villa.
With Sergio Aguero ruled out through an injury suffered in training, City were far from exhilarating but did enough to get the win after Ciaran Clark’s error in the final minute of first half led to the only goal of the game scored by Carlos Tevez. While Villa failed to create a single chance from open play, they will go away feeling aggrieved at having been denied a clear penalty for Matija Nastasic’s challenge on Christian Benteke.
The result sees City close the gap to Manchester United and preserves their slim chances of a miracle comeback to retain their title. But, after the encouraging showing against Chelsea, this was a far more workmanlike display against a Villa side that remain third from bottom.
To the home side’s credit, they kept in the game until the end, but their lack of quality was stark and they could only muster one effort on goal throughout the 90 minutes.
Villa had begun well, though, and it was they that created the first clear chance of the contest. It came from a set piece, with a corner reaching top scorer Benteke, but the Belgian’s strong header was kicked off the line by Tevez.
That was to be as good as it got for Villa, as City gained the ascendency and gradually cranked up the pressure.
It was largely down to some fine goalkeeping from Brad Guzan that the match remained goalless for as long as it did. The American’s best save came after Pablo Zabaleta had the ball threaded through to him in the area and he curled a shot toward the far corner but Guzan did spectacularly well to tip the effort onto the post.
Despite Villa conceding more than 50 goals this season, Guzan continued to demonstrate why he can bear little culpability for his team’s defensive ills as he pulled off further saves from substitute Edin Dzeko—who replaced the injured Jack Rodwell—and Tevez.
But with the half-time whistle approaching, Villa fell behind to a goal completely of their own making. Receiving a throw in 35 yards from goal, Clark tried to turn back past Edin Dzeko, but he slipped and the Bosnian stole the ball and raced into the box before squaring it for Tevez, who dummied past goalkeeper and a defender before finishing coolly past a covering Villa player on the line.
City really should have gone a long way to wrapping up the three points early in the second period. Tevez broke into the box but, as he lost his footing, he stubbornly held onto the ball rather than squaring it to the unmarked Silva and his tame effort was cleared away.
City were not exactly pushing for further goals, but it was the visitors who continued to create the game’s best openings. With 20 minutes remaining Yaya Toure drifted around Ashley Westwood on the edge of the area before firing a low shot that Guzan appeared to get the faintest of fingertips on to push an effort onto the post for the second time of the night.
Villa continued to show plenty of endeavor, but quality was sorely lacking and Benteke continued to look the only player capable of causing City any real problems. And Villa's shining light this season should have been given a penalty, but it wasn’t to be and Villa continue to look in real danger of ending their long stay in the top flight.