Yaya Toure and Sergio Aguero scored late goals as Manchester City battled to beat Aston Villa 2-0 in the Barclays Premier League on Saturday.
The champions were at risk of losing further ground in the Barclays Premier League title race ahead of leaders Chelsea hosting Arsenal on Sunday. But Toure, who has struggled to replicate his form of last season when he scored 20 league goals, broke the deadlock after 82 minutes. Aguero, who like Aleksandar Kolarov had hit a post earlier in the contest, rifled home a second to make the points safe and reduce the gap on Chelsea at the top to two points.
Andreas Weimann scored a dramatic winner in this fixture last year, but was set to be restricted to a place on the Villa bench alongside the returning Christian Benteke until he was promoted into the starting XI to replace Gabriel Agbonlahor, who fell ill during the warm-up. James Milner came back into the City line-up against his former club alongside the defensive duo of Eliaquim Mangala and Kolarov as Manuel Pellegrini tinkered with the side who drew with Roma in midweek in the UEFA Champions League.
City started brightly and Nathan Baker had to fling himself to block a sixth-minute strike by Toure after an ambitious effort from Kolarov was partially cleared. Kolarov found himself in a more favourable position five minutes later and rattled Brad Guzan's near post from the left of Villa's box.
Aguero glanced wide from a Kolarov cross and strike partner Edin Dzeko lashed into the Holte End when well placed as City continued to press. Villa refused to buckle under intense pressure at the end of the first half as Milner and Kolarov saw shots deflected narrowly wide before Aly Cissokho cleared Dzeko's goalbound header.
The second half began in dramatic fashion as Milner played through Aguero to strike the base of a post. The rebound fell favourably for the hosts, who surged forward and a brilliant last-ditch challenge was required from City full-back Pablo Zabaleta to stop Kieran Richardson beating Joe Hart.
Hart's opposite number Guzan produced the save of the match in the 48th minute, plunging to keep out David Silva's shot on the turn having been unsighted. But Villa were increasingly looking dangerous on the break, with City captain Vincent Kompany required to intervene after Charles N'Zogbia had slalomed past Mangala and Fernandinho.
The latter then hobbled off in the 56th minute to be replaced by Frank Lampard and his departure allowed Villa to enjoy a sustained spell of possession for the first time in the contest. Weimann could have done better when he glanced off target from Tom Cleverley's 60th-minute cross and it was the Austrian’s last act as Benteke came on for his first action since March due to an Achilles injury.
Fernando's introduction for Dzeko allowed City to regain control of central areas and Silva stabbed wide from Milner's low 70th-minute cross. Aguero, Mangala and Lampard all went on to test Guzan's handling, but the American had no chance when Toure was allowed room to shimmy past Fabian Delph and caress a left-footed shot into the bottom corner.
Milner fired a pass into Aguero two minutes from time and the Argentinian held off Baker and Philippe Senderos to finish with a fierce shot and condemn seventh-placed Villa to a third consecutive defeat.
Aston Villa manager Paul Lambert: "I think for 82 minutes there we were in it. Kieran [Richardson's] had a great chance. I know Aguero's hit the post at the other end but that's how tight it is; when you play against sides like these when you get a chance you've got a take it.
"But they're a right good side as well, in my own opinion they’ll finish first or second in the league. They are such a good side that they are always going to have chances against you, but our defending for 82 minutes, the lads were excellent."
"We were well in the game against a side that'll go close to winning it and if they get their European campaign up and running they'll go pretty close.
"But there are plenty of pluses to take. We're still sitting seventh after a pretty gruelling four matches."
Man City manager Manuel Pellegrini: "We deserved to win the game, we had a lot of chances to score and reviewing the game I think we played the best game of this season completely – in possession, in goalscoring chances, in the way we defended, in the intensity we recovered the ball and the way we worked. If we didn't score before it was because Aston Villa defended very well."
"It was very important for him to score his first goal but Yaya [Toure] is a very experienced player, he can be criticised for one or two weeks but I know perfectly how he thinks and I don't have a problem with that. The important thing is Yaya knows he must improve every game and he is trying to do it.
"The title is always decided by one or two points so it was an important three points. We cannot do nothing about Chelsea but we can do what we did today by playing in this way."
|20 Dec 2014||v Man Utd (H)|
|13 Dec 2014||v West Brom (A)|
|27 Oct 2014||v QPR (A)|
|07 Dec 2014||v Leicester (H)|
|02 Dec 2014||v Crystal Palace (A)|
|29 Nov 2014||v Burnley (A)|