Aston Villa earned their first real, unexpected win of the season over Manchester City on Saturday, just their sixth league victory of the season having beaten the likes of West Ham, West Brom, Wolves, Blackpook and Everton in the current campaign. A gutsy defensive performance was rewarded with a rare clean sheet for Villa’s leaky back line and was capped by a debut winner for record signing Darren Bent. After very much hanging on for much of the second half, the team showed real spirit to close out the win against the league’s second placed side at the time. So is this a turning point? One would hope so after a dismal season thus far, Bent showed what he does best with a real poachers effort and the strikers movement up front is something the club have been lacking for over a decade. Can Villa push on with a win at Wigan to get back up to mid table security and even beyond or will Houllier’s side crumble once again? Before the game there was a real buzz after some decent transfer window movement and I was touting a cheeky bid for the 7th European spot but maybe I’m a dreamer!
Man City were first to really scare the opposition defence when an in-swinging Kolarov corner evaded the entire Villa defence but also City’s strike duo of Edin Dzeko and Carlos Tevez, who failed to convert at the back post.
Villa made the most of the early let off and Darren Bent took just 18 minutes, fittingly the figure of his initial fee, to prove why Houllier and Lerner showed so much faith in the frontman with a neat finish on his debut. The goal came after Agbonlahor had found Young who clipped a neat curling effort towards the far post. Joe Hart will be disappointed not to push the precise effort clear but Bent stole a march on his marker and was on hand to sweep home, under the sprawling City stopper.
Villa’s veteran keeper than showed his young England counterpart how it’s done after Vincent Kompany had powered a header at goal from another Kolarov corner, Friedel was equal to it and pulled off the save of the match in tipping over.
Ciaran Clark was booked, yet again, for a foul on Dzeko but looks increasingly assured in Premier League football, wherever he plays.
A glancing header from former Villa captain Gareth Barry almost levelled the game late in the first half but Villa fans were mightily relieved to see the effort bounce inches wide.
Villa ended a fairly even first half with a decent effort from range from Ashley Young but Hart was equal to the low drive, this time managing to push the ball wide with Bent again lurking.
The Villa defence fought in warrior like fashion in the second half, throwing everything in front of a barrage of City attacks to keep the side in front. Adam Johnson was brought on for Gareth Barry and troubled the inexperience of Clark at left back with a number of teasing runs.
Villa did well in limiting the visitors to half chances, almost all of which were blocked by the resolute back four. Collins on numerous occasions defended efforts from the likes of Tevez and Dzeko with centre-back partner Richard Dunne also back to his best from the early stages of last season with a whole hearted display.
At the other end, Bent held up play nicely showing neat touches to prove that he is not just a poacher, with hard graft in a very lonely role for much of the game, winning over the Villa faithful.
The likes of Petrov was also in the best form of his season with Nigel Reo-Coker also coming off the bench and putting in a good defensive shift.
Late scares for the home side saw a pile-driver from Nigel de Jong, deflected onto the post by Ciaran Clark in City’s best attempt of the game and Dzeko had another good chance to equalise but headed harmlessly wide.
The last chance of the match fell to the bright Ashley Young, who linked play up well, but he failed to stab home a decent low delivery from the ever-energetic Marc Albrighton though the one goal lead was enough to secure a fantastic win for Houllier’s side.
A real fighting performance was typified by the Villa centre backs who were outstanding, though the headlines go to new-boy Bent whose first goal in Villa colours, saw the side leapfrog Birmingham in their attempts to avoid the drop. I’m very optimistic that Villa can kick on with a win against Wigan and start to dream of a fantastic change of fortunes to charge up to the safety of mid table at the least but I do tend to get carried away! By no means are we out of the woods but the win and, more so the performance will give the side and manager real heart going into the next few games. UTV!
Villa Player Ratings
Brad Friedel – 7 – will be delighted with his first clean sheet in god knows how long, one great save
Carlos Cuellar – 7 – deputised for the injured Walker in confident fashion
James Collins – 8 – blocks galore capped a full-blooded display
Richard Dunne – 8 – best performance of the season from Dunne without a doubt, good to see
Ciaran Clark – 6 – very competent but twisted inside-out by Johnson at times, booked
Marc Albrighton – 7 – full of running, the next Milner, work rate goes a long way
Stewart Downing – 6 – less influential in central role but worked hard and some nice touches
Stiliyan Petrov – 7 – good captain’s display, seems back to full fitness
Gabby Agbonlahor – 7 – best display since shifting wide
Ashley Young – 8 – constant threat on the break, good effort led to goal
Darren Bent – 8 – tireless debut, nice finish and decent link-up play, legend in the making!
Nigel Reo-Coker – 7 – came on to good effect defensively
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