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Carlos Tevez kept alive Manchester City's slim hopes of retaining their Barclays Premier League title with a first-half winner at relegation-threatened Aston Villa.
Tevez, who replaced knee-injury victim Sergio Aguero, broke the deadlock in first-half added time after Villa defender Ciaran Clark was caught out in possession.
Victory again cut runaway leaders Manchester United's advantage to a still formidable 12 points with only 10 games remaining. It also moved Roberto Mancini's side five points clear of in-form Tottenham Hotspur, but Villa's seventh home reverse of the season means they remain in the bottom three.
City made a sluggish start to the game, but once they stepped up a gear, Villa were indebted to several fine saves from Brad Guzan for keeping them in contention. Tevez was a constant threat to the Villa rearguard with his skill and energy while James Milner posed problems down the flank against his former club.
Villa showed plenty of spirit and commitment and striker Christian Benteke won the aerial battle with the City defence. Their thoughts will now turn to back-to-back matches with Reading and Queens Park Rangers, which will have a massive impact on whether they can cling on to their top-flight status.
But they will be without midfielder Fabian Delph, whose injury-time booking for handball earned him his 10th booking of the season and a two-match ban.
Villa initially belied their lowly league position and quickly took the game to City. Goalkeeper Joe Hart was unconvincing when attempting to punch clear a cross from Joe Bennett, while Matija Nastasic did well to deal with a cross from Gabriel Agbonlahor when under pressure from Benteke.
The visitors were also relieved when a dipping centre across the face of goal from Bennett just eluded the lunge of Andreas Weimann.
Benteke was causing plenty of problems in the air and climbed above the City defence to head over an Ashley Westwood corner and Roberto Mancini’s charges were also indebted to Tevez for clearing a Benteke header off the line after 22 minutes from a Charles N'Zogbia centre.
City regrouped and Jack Rodwell forced Villa keeper Brad Guzan to tip over a shot from a narrow angle but it was his last contribution, with the former Everton player picking up an injury, seemingly to his troublesome left hamstring, and was replaced by Edin Dzeko.
The Barclays Premier League champions started to take control and the defensive wall parted when defending a Milner free-kick, but Guzan was equal to the effort from the former Villa player. The United States international then palmed a curling drive from Pablo Zabaleta on to a post.
By now it was one-way traffic towards the Villa goal and Guzan again excelled in finger-tipping away Tevez's effort from the edge of the box. But the Argentina international broke the deadlock in first-half injury-time with his 11th goal of the season.
Clark was caught in possession by Dzeko when trying to be over-elaborate and appealed in vain for a foul as the Bosnian striker threaded the ball through to Tevez, who kept calm and cut back inside the box before slotting past Guzan.
It was a hammer blow for Villa and City continued on the offensive at the start of the second period. Dzeko showed neat control before having a volley deflected past the post, while Matthew Lowton cleared a shot on the turn from Tevez off the line after he had been teed up by Dzeko.
Then Yaya Toure's angled low shot hit the post and Dzeko had strayed offside before converting the rebound.
With the clock ticking down Lowton drilled a fierce effort just wide but Villa were posing few threats despite Benteke continuing to dominate in the air and eventually succumbed to their ninth reverse of the campaign.
Manchester City manager Roberto Mancini: "We did a good performance and it was difficult. For us 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. Last year nobody thought it was possible but 12 points in 10 games... If they lose four...
“We are playing well and didn't concede a lot of chances. For me, Aston Villa are a good team and it is strange they're at the bottom.”
Aston Villa manager Paul Lambert: "I don't think it was a foul [on Ciaran Clark for Manchester City’s goal. I know what Ciaran 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."
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|16 Mar 2013||v QPR (H)|
|31 Mar 2013||v Liverpool (H)|
|06 Apr 2013||v Stoke (A)|
|13 Apr 2013||v Fulham (H)|
|22 Apr 2013||v Man Utd (A)|