Barclay’s English Premiership
Sunday 17 August, 2008, 15:00 KO
City: Hart, Corluka, Richards (c), Ben-Haim, Garrido, Elano, Etuhu, Gelson (Ireland 81), Johnson, Petrov, Evans (Sturridge 81)
Unused: Schmeichel, Ball, Onuoha, Hamann, Caicedo
Goals: Elano (pen 64), Corluka (89)
City Man of the Match: Micah Richards
It was bad news from Villa Park before the season had even kicked off, with City’s Valerie Bojinov carried off during the warm-up with an Achilles injury that could see him sidelined for another six months.
City began their Premiership season with a 4-2 defeat, which, in truth, flattered the home side greatly, as Mark Hughes’s men deserved at least a point from the opening day game.
The first half was a tight affair, with both sides not really testing the other’s goalkeeper, and only a few clear cut chances created.
City began the game the more threatening, with a Petrov corner flighted towards the edge of the area, where the unmarked Elano was ready to hit a volley. As he went to strike it, referee Phil Dowd collided with him, knocking him down and the chance went.
Villa began to get their foot on the ball, with John Carew flashing a header wide and nodding another into Joe Hart’s hands from the home side’s first two corners.
Etuhu stretched his legs on 20 minutes, breaking into the box, but his low, driven cross evaded both Elano and Evans, who were joining the attack.
Just over five minutes later, Villa’s Gareth Barry spurned the home side’s best chance of the half, when he found himself with space to volley after Reo-Coker had beaten Garrido, but the midfielder slammed the ball wide.
Minutes later, some neat inter-play between Elano and Petrov sent the Bulgarian through, but his left-footed drive from just outside the box was straight at Villa goalkeeper, Brad Friedel.
Evans was making himself busy, and, on 36 minutes, he was close to latching onto a Petrov through ball and, two minutes later, flicked a Corluka cross over the bar. City were piling on the pressure before the break, but couldn’t force a goal, as Friedel tipped an Etuhu cross over his crossbar.
After the break, City’s good work was undone, as Gelson gave the ball away and Ashley Young found the unmarked John Carew, who nodded home from six yards.
City worked hard to find an equaliser, and many inside the ground thought it had come on 52 minutes, when Martin Petrov volleyed into the side netting from a tight angle.
Just after the hour, Michael Johnson broke forward, and, following a mix-up between the two Villa centre backs, found himself through on goal. But before the youngster could pull the trigger, he was hauled over and Phil Dowd pointed to the spot. Elano stepped up and coolly slotted the ball into the bottom right corner.
But then followed ten minutes of madness, as City conceded three goals, each of which would greatly disappoint manager, Mark Hughes.
First, a Villa corner was nodded back across the box by Curtis Davies, and the ball was poked by the helpless Joe Hart by Gabriel Agbonlahor. It was the first of his three, and it shouldn’t have gone in from City’s point of view, but Villa won’t care.
Agbonlahor doubled his tally just six minutes later, when Villa hit the blues (playing in their new, orange 3rd strip) on the break. Gareth Barry found the unmarked Villa youngster, who headed powerfully past Hart.
Agbonlahor completed his hat-trick a minute later, as City pushed forward from kick off and failed to deal with a Gareth Barry ball over the top. The pacey forward raced into City’s box and smashed the ball past Hart, who must have been wondering what was going on.
Villa began to sit back and it was City who were passing the ball about as if they were 4-1 up, creating shooting opportunities, but nobody willing to take them.
With ten minutes left, Ireland and Sturridge joined the action, replacing Gelson and Evans and within minutes both had nearly forced a goal. Ireland drove a powerful shot at Friedel, who could only parry the ball back into open play, but the defence cleared.
A minute later, Sturridge curled a left foot effort from range, but Friedel produced another excellent save to deny the substitute an opening day consolation.
A Martin Petrov free kick then fell straight into Friedel’s hands, before a corner found its way to the feet of Croatian, Vedran Corluka, who took a touch and slid the ball into the back of the net. City were piling on the pressure again, but it was too little too late.
Etuhu could have made it 4-3 with seconds left, after he weaved his way into the Villa box, but could get a shot in.
City lost the game 4-2, but it could have been so much different, had they been able to finish their chances and had there not been seven minutes of City defensive calamity. It was a scoreline that flattered Villa, on a day when a draw would have been the least City should have come home with.