Aston Villa 0 Manchester City 1
It is a moment Ciarán Clark won’t be forgetting any time soon.
Do not expect the Aston Villa defender to have slept a wink last night after his calamitous mistake in first-half added time was ruthlessly punished by Carlos Tevez.
It proved, devastatingly for him and Villa, the decisive moment. As the clock ticked down in added time, Villa appeared to have survived an onslaught of pressure.
Then the defender, Villa’s last man, received a throw-in only to loiter in possession. With Edin Dzeko now upon him, he elected for a drag-back in a desperate attempt to get himself out of trouble...only to slip.
Dzeko charged through before squaring to Tevez who, in typically clinical fashion, sold Guzan with a dummy before slotting past the beleaguered Clark, now desperately attempting to make amends on the line.
It was a feat of finishing at its most ruthless and, although harsh on Villa, they only had themselves to blame — Clark’s furious protests were waved away — and correctly so by referee Mike Dean.
“I don’t think it was a foul,” admitted Villa manager Paul Lambert.
“I know what Ciarán was trying to do. You don’t take a chance like that — you can’t make that mistake.
“He’s a young lad and he will come back stronger. He’s been great over the season, at a really high standard, and he will learn.”
Second-placed City are now 12 points off leaders Manchester United as they kept their slim hopes of retaining their Premier League title alive, while Villa still remain rooted in the relegation zone.
“It was difficult,” a relieved Roberto Mancini said afterwards.
“It was important to stay 12 behind United, with 10 games left you never say never. Keep on winning and you never know, this is football.”
It was far from a vintage performance from Mancini’s team, but they remained good value for their victory with Pablo Zabaleta and Yaya Toure both striking the woodwork either side of Tevez’s goal.
Villa, meanwhile, remain in 18th and were once again left to rue a costly lapse of concentration and upcoming matches against fellow strugglers Reading and QPR now take on even further importance.
The Midlands club, though, looked far from a team threatened by relegation at times and they created their best chance of the first half after 21 minutes when it required a Tevez clearance off the line to keep out Christian Benteke’s header from Charles N’Zogbia’s corner.
It was a close escape for the visitors and they responded almost immediately by registering their first genuine attempt when Jack Rodwell’s vicious shot had to be palmed over the crossbar by Brad Guzan.
City, slowly but surely, found their rhythm and Villa were forced to withstand a flurry of blue pressure as the interval approached.
Villa had a fortuitous escape eight minutes before the interval when Yaya Toure and David Silva combined to feed the onrushing Zabaleta, yet the captain’s arcing shot ricocheted against the inside of the left post before being hooked to safety.
Guzan had to be at his best to thwart the dangerous Tevez later, clawing away a stunning curler which looked destined for the top-right corner.
Then came Clark’s moment of madness, completely changing the complexion of both manager’s half-time team-talks.
City picked up where they left off upon the resumption and Dzeko almost claimed one for himself with a half volley which bounced agonisingly beyond the left post.
Matthew Lowton denied City a certain second in the 55th minute with a clearance off the line to deny Tevez after another weaving run.
At 1-0, Villa always stood a chance and they continued to battle manfully with a Gabriel Agbonlahor header and crisp Lowton drive both flashing wide.
Yet as they pressed forward for an equaliser, the openings increased for City and Guzan excelled once more with a fingertip stop to push Yaya Toure’s low shot against the post before Dzeko’s follow-up was ruled out for an offside.
Villa’s frustration was compounded in the final moments when Fabian Delph picked up his 10th booking of the season, meaning he will miss the aforementioned six-pointers — games they can ill-afford to lose.
ASTON VILLA (4-2-3-1): Guzan 8; Lowton 6, Clark 4, Baker 6, Bennett 5; Westwood 6 (El Ahmadi 86), Delph 7; Weimann 6 (Dawkins 84), N’Zogbia 6 (Holman 65, 6), Agbonlahor 7; Benteke 6.
MANCHESTER CITY (4-2-3-1): Hart 6; Zabaleta 7, K Toure 7, Nastasic 7, Clichy 6; Garcia 6, Rodwell 6 (Dzeko 25, 7); Milner 7, Y Toure 7, Silva 7 (Barry 90); Tevez 8 (Nasri 75, 6).
Referee: Mike Dean (Wirral).
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