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    Aston Villa 0-0 Manchester City: Villa frustrate as City Stutter

    by Conall Green

    Remi Garde’s Aston Villa produced a stoic defensive display as table topping Manchester City had to settle for just a point at Villa Park.

    The bottom side defended resolutely throughout and bravely held on for a point through a combination of solid defending, good goalkeeping, the visitors’ wayward finishing, and a slice of good fortune.

    Garde made six changes from the side that lost at White Hart Lane on Monday, with Gabriel Agbonlahor missing out with a calf injury that forced him off at half time in the previous game. Jordan Ayew, who had scored in his previous two appearances, replaced him at centre forward. Micah Richards, banned for Monday’s game, took the place of another former City defender, Joleon Lescott, at the heart of the Villa defence. Carles Gil, Jordan Veretout, Idrissa Gueye and Jordan Amavi came in for Kieron Richardson, Ashley Westwood, Leandro Bacuna and Jack Grealish.

    Manuel Pellegrini made only one change from the side who won convincingly in Sevilla, Spanish winger Jesus Navas making way for Belgian playmaker Kevin de Bruyne.

    Navas did not have to wait too long on the bench however, as he replaced striker Wilfried Bony after 25 minutes, the Ivorian being forced off with a hamstring injury. This lead to a reshuffle tactically, with Navas taking up his usual position on the right flank, de Bruyne switching to the left, and Raheem Sterling playing as the lone striker.

    Sterling, signed for £49 million in the summer, appealed for a penalty in the first half, going down under the merest of touches from Ciaran Clark. Referee Craig Pawson waved away the appeals, probably assessing that Sterling was looking for the spot kick after realising he’d turned back into trouble with Villa right back Alan Hutton covering for his defensive partner.

    That was the height of the action in the first period, and City came out after the interval with a renewed vigour, and should surely have been ahead only eight minutes later.

    Substitute Navas got in down the right wing, and his cross picked out Sterling unmarked inside the six yard box. The former Liverpool man headed at goal with only Brad Guzan to beat, but his effort was straight at the American stopper, who made himself big and made the save with a bit of good fortune; the ball deflecting off his head and out for a corner.

    Raheem Sterling’s finishing was not up to scratch on Sunday.

    De Bruyne was the next City player to have a presentable opportunity, but failed to execute an improvised back-heeled finish from six yards out, and the chance was gone.

    In the 78th minute, Fabian Delph was brought into the game to replace Yaya Toure in midfield. Delph, who left Villa Park in acrimonious circumstance in the summer, received a reception he had to be expecting, being roundly booed by those in claret and blue. Some fans went a step further, waving inflatable snakes at the former Leeds United midfielder.

    There was a controversial moment in the 87th minute after Charles N’Zogbia went down injured and the referee stopped play for the substitute to receive treatment. Fellow Villa replacement, Rudy Gestede, wanted to return the ball to City by throwing the ball over the goal line for a goal kick. City ‘keeper, Joe Hart, wanted to keep the ball in play in an effort to start an attack with Gestede out of position. With Villa down to 10 men already with N’Zogbia off the pitch, Gestede threw the ball at pace, Hart miscontrolled, and Villa had a corner. The City players felt it was unsporting from Gestede, but Villa are fighting for the lives and Joe Hart was trying to be too clever. Villa rightly put the corner into the danger area where Gestede looped an effort just over from around ten yards out.

    In the dying moments, after a succession of City corners, Brazilian midfielder Fernando crashed a header against the bar when he really ought to have scored. In the ensuing scramble, the ball fell to fellow Brazilian Fernandinho at the edge of the area, and his low, side footed attempt went inches past the post with Guzan beaten.

    It was the last real chance for the league leaders, and Villa gained a hard earned point, their first since August, and only their fifth of the season. It was a good start from Garde, with his side showing resilience and belief, but he will need to add some goalscoring threat to his team if they are to start winning games.

    For City, this was a costly two points dropped in the title race, and shows their reliance on Sergio Aguero to produce something out of nothing when things aren’t going well. They will be hoping the Argentine, and his partner in crime David Silva, will be back to full fitness when the season recommences after the international break.

    Man of the Match: Could have went to a number of Villa’s excellent defensive shield, but Micah Richards particularly impressed against his former side.
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    Item Reviewed: Aston Villa 0-0 Manchester City: Villa frustrate as City Stutter Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Conall Green
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