Prior to the visit of Manchester City on Saturday, it is likely that only those among the more optimistic sections of the Aston Villa support gave the home side a realistic chance of winning. Villa had won just five out of their last 27 Premier League games at Villa Park and were without key men Gabriel Agbonlahor and Christian Benteke, while Manuel Pellegrini’s side had won their previous three games, scoring 12 goals in the process.
It ended in a superb result, arguably more impressive than the opening day win over Arsenal, as Villa showed fantastic fighting spirit and resilience to stun the team that are many people’s favourites to regain the title this season.
The first-half provided nothing to suggest that the game was going to be anything other than a comfortable Man City victory as Villa appeared to be struggling to adapt to their new 5-3-2 formation. Leandro Bacuna, who continued at right-back, was giving Aleksandar Kolarov far too much space to attack, a regular feature of the away side’s dominance before the break.
As in Tuesday’s Capital One Cup defeat to Tottenham Hotspur, it was somewhat surprising that Villa managed to hold out until the stroke of half-time. Yaya Toure finally made the pressure tell as he fired in a low shot following a corner with the defence at a standstill.
But the lead did not last long as early in the second half the ball was slipped through to Karim El Ahmadi – an unlikely scorer and marginally offside – who found the far corner. Man City were quick to respond, however, as Edin Dzeko converted a left-wing corner, unmarked, to restore their advantage.
A young team who had just been beaten heavily could so easily have folded at that point. Last season, there was a fragility about the team which was not seen on Saturday. Instead of letting Man City comfortably see out the game or add gloss to the scoreline, the Villa players showed real maturity, and their spirit reaped rewards in a devastating three minute spell.
Villa might have uncovered a new free-kick specialist to take over from Charles N’Zogbia in Bacuna, who produced a wonderful strike to leave Joe Hart stranded. Andreas Weimann meanwhile is probably the best at the club when it comes to predatory instincts, and he was there when it mattered for the winner.
The Austrian nipped in to capitalise on some frankly awful Man City defending – reminiscent of England in the 2010 World Cup – as Vincent Kompany and Matija Nastasic hesitated in trying to deal with Brad Guzan’s long punt forward. Weimann was alert enough to make the most of the situation and score the crucial goal.
It still required a huge effort to hold out, but Ron Vlaar’s leadership proved critical as the captain was responsible for more than one potentially goal-saving challenge. The final whistle eventually came amid joyous scenes as Villa secured a win that takes them into the top half, and it was a result that will earn Paul Lambert immense credit for his motivational skills as he continues to build encouraging foundations at Villa Park.
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