Realistically, Manchester City remain as Champions of England for another 48 hours or, at best, until next Sunday afternoon when the ribbons on the Premier League trophy will go a deeper shade of blue.
In truth City surrendered the title to Chelsea with three abhorrent away losses at Liverpool, Burnley and Crystal Palace, prior to the derby day horror show at Old Trafford.
A tidal wave of disappointment and under achievement has swept away any lingering hopes of another come-from-behind title surge, but at least a familiar ‘one-two’ over opponents in claret and blue has seen City grab consecutive wins and regain 2nd spot in the table.
City were less than convincing in a topsy turvy encounter against a combative Aston Villa, surrendering a two goal advantage before squeaking home 3-2, amidst a plethora of controversial refereeing decisions.
Referee Mike Dean and his assistants contributed yet another chapter to a litany of refereeing ineptitude, witnessed far too often in the Premier League this season.
While plucky Villa and the media bemoaned an onside Christian Benteke being flagged as offside, prior to Joe Hart felling the mountainous Belgian striker, little or no focus was given to a stonewall penalty for Sergio Aguero.
The Argentine striker was hauled down by Bacuna literally 10 yards in front of Dean, who had clear sight of the incident. Aguero’s protestations as he chased after the Wirral official told their own story.
To a slightly lesser degree – but nonetheless still a City penalty – David Silva was scythed down as Okore took man and ball. Dean, as arrogant as he’s ever been, wasn’t the least bit interested.
Naturally a feisty and as forthright as ever, Tim Sherwood, claimed Villa could have won 3-2 and Hart should have been shown the red card, had it not been for the linesman’s mistake.
In truth, City would have been three or four nil up had they had the correct penalty decisions, the complexion of the game altered beyond all measure, before Manure cast-off Cleverly capitalised on a wayward Hart, marooned in no-man’s land, to make it 2-1.
Sanchez’s 85th minute equaliser could have given relegation threatened Villa a merited draw, but City substitute Fernandinho pulled off both the Great Escape and Mission Impossible when he volleyed home the 89th minute winner…direct from a corner!
It had only been 41 league and cup games, 224 days and close to 300 attempts, since City had last scored directly from a corner kick, at Arsenal with a Martin Demichelis header last September.
In a game where City stumbled and spluttered against a reinvigorated Villa, the Brazilian’s brilliantly taken goal was the redeeming feature.
It helped that Villa keeper Brad Guzan played Father Christmas to Sergio in the third minute, gifting him a goal with one of the wackiest ‘clearances’ ever seen at the Etihad.
The City wags were onto it in a flash with a chorus of, ‘There’s only one Shay Given, one Shay Given…’ reverberating around the ground.
On the evidence of Saturday night, the veteran Ireland and ex-City keeper could well retain his FA Cup starting berth at Wembley next month.
Guzan’s generosity followed on from West Ham defender’s James Collins’ spirit of giving, having scored a stunning own goal the week before, as City racked up their usual home win over the Hammers.
Every little helps and, despite all the comparative doom and gloom associated with the Etihad, City are the Premier League’s highest scorers with 70 goals and Sergio, the top individual marksman with 21 from 26 starts and three appearances from the bench…and still he doesn’t make it into the PFA Premier League Team of the Year – what a farce.
Whereas prolific Aguero leads the way, Serbian sniper Aleksander Kolarov rifled home his first goal of the season, from 30 yards out, to put City two up on 66 minutes.
Villa’s defensive wall played ‘Chicken’ with the Balkan sharpshooter…and duly turned yellow, ducking out of the line of fire as AK 47 whipped it home with vicious precision past Guzan.
With automatic qualification for the Champions League the priority, it was cliché corner and the result, rather than the performance being all important.
Just as well. The win was vital, especially in the light of Manure’s tonking in the blue half of Merseyside, and with it, City’s destiny being thrust back into their own hands.
Four more wins and 12 points will certainly secure third place, perhaps even the runners-up slot, albeit Arsenal have a game in hand.
From Manuel Pellegrini’s perspective it has to be a bonus that Manure still have to play the Gunners at The Swamp, so one, or even both teams, have to drop points.
The problem for Pellegrini is that such is the ramshackle state of City’s play, along with huge doubts surrounding the commitment of a number of players to the cause, he doesn’t know which City will turn up from one match to the next.
Yes, on paper the team have bounced back from the 4-2 affront in Trafford Borough, but as his team head to Tottenham on Sunday, they are light years away from the side that smashed Spurs 5-1 at White Hart Lane on their last visit.
Skipper Vincent Kompany is already out for the remainder of the season and the extent of vice captain Yaya Toure’s hamstring injury is still to be determined.
It’s pure speculation, but could we have seen the last of Yaya in City’s colours?
Recent utterances to a French sports publication in relation to PSG and ‘new challenges’, aligned to denigratory comments about City by his agent, Dimitri Seluk, strongly suggest it’ll be a case of ‘Au revoir Yaya’ this summer.
If a lacklustre 45 minutes against Villa prove to be his final contribution to the City ‘project’, it will be an ignominious end to what, until this season, had been a glorious City career.
His influence and starring role in City’s transformation to two-time PL Champions as well as FA and League Cup winners cannot be overstated.
At the age of 32, the Ivorian colossus may well still have much to give to an employer, but it’s unlikely to be at the Etihad.
At the best of times, Yaya’s often languid demeanour can be off-putting to fans, especially if it isn’t interspersed with explosive impersonations of an unstoppable runaway juggernaut, rampaging up field and terrorising opponents.
He can still pick a perfect long range pass and the adage that form is temporary while class is permanent, cannot be easily banished.
That said, City need a ‘Sheikh up’ this summer and a mithering multi-millionaire malcontent won’t figure very highly when ushering in new sky blue horizons.
City have to evolve beyond the nucleus of the 2011/12 champions crafted by Roberto Mancini, and that means life without Yaya.
Bobby Manc’s Inter Milan will undoubtedly be among possible suitors for Toure, with Roberto and Yaya involved in a very public mutual appreciation society in recent weeks.
Whatever ins & outs transpire at the Etihad, be it on the playing or coaching staff, it behoves all presently in the pay of Sheikh Mansour to rescue the remnants of 2014/15 over the remaining 360 minutes of the season.
Champions League qualification and finishing above Manure would have been the very least of City’s expectations last August.
Sadly, it will now represent the pinnacle of a season that everyone associated with City would rather forget.
By David Walker
www.readbutneverred.com @ReadButNeverRed @djwskyblu