MANCHESTER CITY 0
Aston Villa’s new £18m man made a dream debut at the weekend as he scored the only goal of the game as Villa held off title chasing Manchester City.
Coming into the fixture the Villans’ sat fourth from bottom in the league but new boy Darren Bent has been signed by Gerard Houllier to get the goals that will lift Villa away from the drop zone.
Bent is a proven goal scorer, only Didier Drogba and Wayne Rooney have scored more goals than Bent in the last five years. However, beyond his undoubted ability in front of goal, questions have been raised as to how he will fit in this Villa side that for most of the season has used a big psychical target man as a lone striker. While at Sunderland, Bent played with a strike partner in all bar 10 of his 63 appearances for the club, and while he is a willing runner, he has struggled when playing up front alone.
Against City, Villa lined in a 4-2-3-1 formation; Bent alone up top, with Gabriel Agbonlahor, Marc Albrighton and Ashley Young playing behind him. Stuart Downing played deeper alongside Stiliyan Petrov. Though this shifted to more of a 4-1-4-1 as the game progressed, with Petrov playing in front of the defence and the attacking trio of Agbonlahor, Albrighton and Young dropping deeper, as the Villans looked to hold on to their lead.
It took 18 minutes before Bent opened his account in the claret and blue of Aston Villa. Young picked the ball up in the left channel having run beyond Yaya Toure and, with a City defender closing in, he did well to dig out a shot which Joe Hart parried into the path of Bent, who slotted the ball home. It was Bent’s only real contribution to the game but thanks to the dogged determination of his defence it was decisive.
City’s response to going behind was methodical. They played at a low tempo and were too narrow. They dominated possession but were unable to create any chances from open play, though they did threaten from set pieces early on.
Villa were content to try and play on the break making use of their pace, however, they struggled for fluency and passing on the whole was poor, as such Bent was an isolated figure for much of the game.
In the second half Villa began in a more positive fashion and held on to the ball with more assurance. However, as the half developed they became more and more content with preserving their lead. They defended deeper and deeper, by the end of the game their formation looked like a 6-3-1. City continued to struggle for width in the second half and even with the introduction of Adam Johnson late on they continued to funnel into the middle of the pitch and Villa’s defenders remained resolved – charging down shots and making key tackle and interceptions.
There was a late scare as Nigel De Jong’s long range drive was defected onto the post, but it proved to be a resilient defensive performance from Villa. Great credit should go to the back four particularly James Collins who dominated all game.
It was Villa’s first clean sheet since October and if they are to improve from a disappointing first half of the season then strong defensive displays will be just as important as Bent’s goals.
24 Cuellar – 29 Collins – 5 Dunne – 21 Clark
19 Petrov – 6 Downing
12 Albrighton – 7 Young – 11 Agbonlahor
88 – 20 Reo-Coker on for 19 Petrov