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.
SCORERS: Manchester City - Tevez (45)
Referee: M Dean
Tevez, who replaced knee injury victim Sergio Aguero, broke the deadlock in first-half injury-time after a mistake by Villa defender Ciaran Clark. Victory again cut runaway leaders Manchester United’s advantage to a still formidable 12 points with only ten games remaining.
It also moved Roberto Mancini’s side five points clear of in-form Tottenham, 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 QPR, 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-game ban.
Villa initially belied their lowly league position and quickly took the game to City.
Keeper Joe Hart was unconvincing when attempting to punch clear a cross from Joe Bennett. Matija Nastasic did well to deal with a cross from Gabriel Agbonlahor when under pressure from Benteke.
But the visitors were 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.
City were indebted to Tevez 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 some sort of injury in the Villa box and he was replaced by Edin Dzeko. City 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.
It was one-way traffic now towards the Villa goal and Guzan again excelled in finger-tipping away Tevez’s effort from the edge of the box. But Tevez 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 he 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.
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.
Lowton drilled a fierce effort just wide but Villa were posing few threats despite Benteke continuing to dominate in the air.
Villa player Nathan Baker became the first player to be yellow-carded for a challenge on Nastasic before Tevez made way for Samir Nasri.
Aston Villa: Guzan, Lowton, Clark, Baker, Bennett, Weimann (Dawkins 84), Westwood (El Ahmadi 85), Delph, Agbonlahor, N’Zogbia (Holman 65), Benteke. Subs Not Used: Given, Sylla, Bowery, Lichaj.
Manchester City: Hart, Zabaleta, Toure, Nastasic, Clichy, Javi Garcia, Rodwell (Dzeko 25), Milner, Toure, Silva (Barry 90), Tevez (Nasri 75). Subs Not Used: Pantilimon, Lescott, Sinclair, Kolarov.