A contented Carlos Tevez and a commanding Kolo Toure were the ‘unlikely’ heroes of a hard fought, but ultimately well deserved Manchester City win over struggling Aston Villa.
I say ‘unlikely’ based on a backdrop of not-too-distant history when Tevez was a social pariah and Kolo the butt of many a joke, serving a drugs ban for taking his wife’s slimming tablets.
It just goes to show rehabilitation is a wonderful thing and the Argentine forward is now fully integrated back into life at the Etihad, and indeed the wider city of Manchester, a place which he once famously derided as having ‘…only two restaurants.’
As for Kolo, the big brother of Yaya, who had obvious concerns about not getting any bigger, (does my bum look big in these shorts?) he has excelled in recent games, as cover for the injured Vincent Kompany.
Toure the elder, deservedly took the Man-of-the-Match plaudits in City’s 1-0 win at Villa Park, but it was Tevez who stole the limelight at each end of the field, scoring the 45th minute winner and clearing a certain Christian Benteke goal off the City goal line.
With Roberto Mancini’s men once again trailing Stretford Rangers by 15 points, it was an absolute imperative that they came away from a cold Birmingham night with all the spoils.
The odds were stacked massively in favour of the reigning champions with Villa languishing in the Premier League drop zone, having won just one in their last 10 league games.
It was a night for statistical ‘anoraks’ as City maintained their quirky record of never losing this season when they score first. It’s now 14 wins and two draws when the Sky Blues initiate goal scoring proceedings.
In stark contrast, Villa have yet to win a PL game when they’ve gone behind – two draws and 12 defeats – a bitter testimony to the inability of Paul Lambert’s side to reverse adversity.
Lambert’s young braves didn’t lack for effort – the slender score line reflects their spirited resistance – but Benteke’s powering header, apart, they had nothing to trouble Joe Hart or City’s PL leading defence.
It could have been different had referee Mike Dean awarded the home side a penalty when Matija Nastasic appeared to bring the big Belgian crashing down in the closing stages.
On the topic of ‘ifs, buts and maybes’ City could justifiably point to the woodwork as being all that stood between them and far more handsome reward for their night’s endeavours.
Villa’s brilliant keeper Brad Guzan tipped a first half Pablo Zabalta piledriver onto his post, whereas in the second half, he was beaten all ends up by a well crafted low drive from Yaya Toure, which bounced back off the post.
Predator Dzeko gobbled up the rebound, smashing it into the net, but alas…from an offside position.
No, the real goal action was delivered on the stroke of half time, when City’s Bosnian top scorer dispossessed a floundering Ciaran Clark before squaring an inch perfect pass to Tevez.
The now happily settled Carlito took one touch, dummied the sprawling Guzan, before rounding him and dispatching the ball into the bottom left of the gaping Villa net.
He’d earlier drawn a stunning save from the USA keeper after cutting across the Villa 18 yard box and curling a beautiful shot goal bound. Guzan had thwarted a superb Jack Rodwell shot and saved from Dzeko as City piled on the pressure in the first 45 minutes.
Sadly Rodwell was lost to that infernal bloody hamstring which continues to dog his season. The young England star is showing clear signs that he is the ‘real deal’ but the fragility of his body could yet crush a career positively oozing with promise.
Tevez was denied a second goal when his shot, having beaten Guzan, was cleared by Matt Lowton off the line.
With so much at stake for both sides it was an intense affair but that’s not to say without magnanimity, humour and good grace.
The admirable 3,000 travelling support stood with the Villa fans and honoured 60 seconds applause in the 19th minute for Villa’s number 19 Stilian Petrov, stricken with cancer and absent from the game.
Along with the barbs concerning Villa’s possible relegation came the gem of the evening from the City Jukebox: “Gareth Barry thinks you’re sh*t, thinks you’re sh*t, thinks you’re sh*t, Gareth Barry thinks you’re sh*t, so does Milner (repeat to fade).
A genuinely funny moment.
Barry was duly unceremoniously booed when he came on as a late late substitute for David Silva, whereas Milner was accorded respect by the home supporters.
And on a night when Villa’s trio of ex-MCFC personnel, Shay Given, Stephen Ireland and Richard Dunne, were all conspicuous by their absence, worrying news emerged about former City favourite Dunninho.
It appears the ‘Dunney Monster’s’ career is all but over due to injury and the unofficial word is that he will retire at season’s end. If that is so he will always be remembered with warmth and affection by City fans.
Those affection levels are in bountiful supply for one Roberto Mancini who, in his 125th PL game took his win rate to 62% with victory number 77, along with 26 draws and 22 reversals.
The passionate and defiant Italian is in no mood to concede City’s title and even less so to relinquish ambitions of a second FA Cup success in three seasons.
It’s ForzaMancini and get the silver polishing cloth prepared!