The Ped Report Aston Villa 0-1 City
It was quite a non-descript affair that took shape at Villa Park yesterday evening. The Pedmachine was perched on his stool in Faisal's Old London Bar on the Costa del Sol sacrificing the late afternoon sunshine in favour of a few beers and the match on a pull-down screen.
The selected eleven looked like a 'team to do a job' rather than one to inject flair and win the match with relish.
Kompany returned to the fold post injury, post suspension and he and Lescott in a back four that also contained Zabaleta and Kolarov may as well as have had a nap as Birmingham's finest did practically nothing to trouble them all afternoon. Indeed it was until the match headed into overtime that Villa had a meaningful goal attempt.
The midfield contained the ex-Villa contingent of Barry and Milner saddled up alongside Johnson and de Jong with Silva and Aguero proving the low-rise ground attack option.
Villa hardly saw the ball in the opening exchanges with the stats going ballistic in City's favour. But as an early breakthrough didn't materialise it almost became a game of cat and mouse as the temporarily deposed league leaders probed for their chances. Villa were simply happy to keep City in front of them and guard their penalty area in similar fashion to their cross-City rivals, when McLeish had them in the premier league.
They gave up the wide and deep areas, blocked things in the middle and generally frustrated the Blues.
They got themselves to half time with their goal intact but having not even had a look at Joe Hart, who may as well have standing with the fans.
As the second half got under way it was more of the same. It was not appetizing stuff with Villa more or less intent on earning a 0-0 draw but with City continuing to go forward.
Barry led the way against his former team mates with an unsung hero performance. Robust in the tackle, neat in his passing, keen to get forward and support Aguero and Silva although not quite in Yaya Toure style. He also assisted de Jong in keeping the outer door shut.
And it was probably fitting that the two ex-Villains were responsible for finally prising open the door just after the hour.
Milner's corner from the left travelled a long way to Barry beyond the far post, a location often devoid of City players at set pieces.
Barry's pinpoint header back into the centre found the unattended Lescott on the six-yard line and his volley went straight into the net giving his former keeper Given no chance.
Villa tried hard to get back into the match sending on Ireland to try to get some grip in midfield, but City were in no mood to surrender the lead. They were given two chances. First Collins headed over when the net beckoned and then finally in the last minute a scrambled ball in City's box found Bent in space. His instinctive shot was superbly saved at close range by England's number one and maybe future captain, Joe Hart. Once again this extraordinary young keeper, who had done nothing for nigh on 90 minutes had enough concentration about him to prevent the hosts getting an unlikely and undeserved draw pushing the ball to safety as time was running out.
Richard Dunne got himself in the way of Joe as he came to clear a cross into the box and finished up leaving the field with what looked like a dislocated shoulder. The ovation included the travelling City fans who always remember their departed heroes.
The Blues inched their way to the finishing line and back to the top of the league.
Again the team selection was not one for the Blue and White purists but it was one clearly capable of getting three points off Villa as Balotelli and Yaya wait in the wings for their much awaited returns. Again the outcome was not what the purists wanted in terms of the score, but we'll take another thirteen scruffy 1-0 wins as the season draws to a close. I suspect with the return of Yaya things will start to take on a different dimension with juggernaut drives from midfield restored. We have missed those at the Etihad. Milner, Barry, Nasri and Johnson have tried to change thing in their own ways but there is no equal in this competition to Yaya Toure and maybe his disappointment at not winning the African Cup of Nations will drive him on to better things in the Premier League.
Mancini got the calls right for this one, although we would have like two or three more goals. The team ended up fluid enough without being spectacular. City did not look to be under any realistic threat with the scoreline being more comfortable than it looked.
Silva and Aguero both had chances and looked fluent up front, Johnson got some space wide and deep but didn't make it count. Kolarov sends in crosses like howitzers and I for one wouldn't want get my head anywhere near them.
For his neat and tidiness plus the qualities I mentioned some time earlier I think Barry was City's MVP on the day.