Barclay’s English Premiership
Wednesday 4 March 2009, 19:45 KO
City: Given, Zabaleta, Dunne (c), Onuoha, Bridge, Kompany, de Jong (Gelson 46), Ireland, Elano (Bojinov 82), Wright-Phillips, Caicedo (Evans 73)
Unused: Hart, Vassell, Garrido, Berti
Goals: Elano (24 pen), Wright-Phillips (88)
City Man of the Match: Shaun Wright-Phillips
City made three changes to the team that narrowly lost at Upton Park, with Robinho, Richards and Bellamy all missing through injury. This meant it was a recall for Caicedo and the previously suspended Wright-Phillips, and a rare start for Elano.
The home side set their initiative from the off, with the returning Wright-Phillips driving through the Villa defence, before sending a shot just wide of Friedel’s post.
Elano was getting into the thick of the action, trying to show Mark Hughes that he was worth a place in the team, and he sent Stephen Ireland through on goal on 10 minutes. Ireland, though, elected to square the ball to Caicedo and it was cleared by Knight.
Then, on 21 minutes, City really should have taken the lead. De Jong picked up the ball in the midfield and found Ireland breaking to the left. The Irishman played a delightful first time ball to Wright-Phillips, sending him through in the area. The little winger, though, could only slide the ball wide with his left foot, under pressure from Young.
But it didn’t matter for long. On 24 minutes, some good possession football from City around Villa’s box, set Wright-Phillips through on goal. As he moved his foot back, ready to pull the trigger, he was brought down by Milner. Elano stepped up and smashed the penalty into the net.
Caicedo then dallied too long on the ball, when he should have shot from the edge of the area, allowing Cuellar to dispossess him. The big Ecuadorian was left on the floor after landing awkwardly in the challenge, but he was fine to continue after receiving treatment from the physio.
Caicedo broke free on the left with seconds to go before half time and knocked a ball square towards Ireland and Zabaleta. It was behind them both, but the Argentinian found Wright-Phillips, who pulled a low cross in that Stephen Ireland was inches away from converting.
It had been all City for the first half, with Shay Given doing nothing more than sweeping up behind the defence and without Villa, looking for a top four position, even having a shot on or off target.
Villa came out for the second half desperate for their equaliser, and they huffed and puffed but couldn’t blow City’s door down. As much possession and pressure as the away side put on, they didn’t force a shot that had Given worried.
The closest they came was a Gareth Barry volley, that required Given to dive low to his right to push around the post. But it was the City keeper’s first and only save of the match.
After Evans replaced Caicedo, Valerie Bojinov made his first home league appearance since the Manchester derby in August 2007 to a standing ovation, replacing the excellent Elano.
City had got themselves more of a foothold into the match, soaking up the Villa pressure, and they were forcing Friedel into saves. Elano deserved a second goal for his volley, after Evans chested it down to him from a Bridge cross, but the Villa keeper superbly tipped the ball around the post.
Richard Dunne, who was back to his very best alongside Nedum Onuoha, produced perhaps the interception of the season, nodding an Agbonlahor cross behind for a corner when it looked certain that Carew would make it 1-1.
The City fans were incensed when Aston Villa refused to give their side the ball back when they were in possession when play was stopped after a clash of heads. But City won it back at the drop ball, and Evans steamed away down the right flank. He found Ireland, who laid it off to Wright-Phillips and the winger played a one-two with the Irishman, before sliding the ball past Friedel and into the net.
Stephen Ireland could have made it 3-0 in stoppage time, with Friedel scrambling the ball away at his near post. It didn’t matter, though, because City bossed the game and they got the result their performance deserved. If Robinho, Bellamy and Richards are fit for the next game, Mark Hughes will have a major selection headache.