Guzan gaffe a gift for Man City, but battling win over Villa
But for a goalkeeping gaffe worthy of the bloopers reel from Brad Guzan, Aston Villa would have come away from the Etihad with a hard-earned point.
Manchester City leading marksman Sergio Aguero was in the right place at the right time, however, to profit from the American’s early error and keep Manuel Pellegrini’s men on course for a top four Premier League finish.
Attempting to switch play after receiving a back-pass on three minutes, Villa stopper Guzan, returning in place of cup custodian Shay Given, made a terrible misjudgment going square across his own box.
The lethal predatory poaching instincts of Argentina international Aguero allowed him to capitalise on this keeping calamity for perhaps the easiest goal of his career.
Such a shaky start from Villa came in stark contrast to how Tim Sherwood’s side acquitted themselves on the hallowed turf of Wembley, when beating Liverpool as underdogs to book their spot in the FA Cup final last time out.
It could have been worse for the visitors, but left back Kieran Richardson got back at City winger Jesus Navas just in time to stop his shot from a tight angle testing Guzan.
Villa and their number one were also fortunate to get away with Guzan’s failure to read the flight of Aleksandar Kolarov’s free-kick, as Fernando Reges saw his unmarked header sail wide.
More mistakes followed with Leandro Bacuna’s poor back-pass pounced upon by Aguero, but Villa club captain Ron Vlaar made a recovering tackle and the visitors eventually smuggled the ball clear.
Sherwood’s side rarely threatened for three-quarters of this contest, though a loose ball broke to in-form Christian Benteke inside the City box midway through the first half and the flag stayed down, yet he shot straight at Joe Hart.
City lost Yaya Toure at the interval to what looked like a hamstring strain when tussling with Fabian Delph in midfield, which could keep him out of their run-in. Some will wonder, should the injury prove serious enough to amount to that, if he has played his last game for the Etihad outfit.
England international Delph fired wide when teed up by young Jack Grealish following Benteke winning a knockdown 10 minutes into the second half, but Villa then fell further behind with a quarter of the game to go.
Kolarov converted a free-kick, which he bent through the wall with Richardson and Bacuna both culpable for breaking ranks and vacating space. City’s two-goal advantage lasted just a couple of minutes, however, as Villa pulled one back when Tom Cleverley finally scored for them.
On loan from City’s neighbours and top four rivals Manchester United, midfielder Cleverley had gone the entire season without making any tangible contribution, namely goals or assists, to Villa’s cause.
He changed that, however, with a clean strike on the rebound when Hart didn’t get to a free-kick and the hosts failed to clear their lines to set up a grandstand finish.
Three Lions number one Hart was more alert to the danger of impact substitute Charles N’Zogbia as Villa sought an equaliser, and they got it five minutes from time through Colombia anchorman Carlos Sanchez.
Hart found himself blocked off from the right-wing corner, and Sanchez volleyed in the rebound when City again failed to clear their own area.
There was more later drama, however, with a swift Villa counter through N’Zogbia resulting in the linesman wrongly ruling Benteke offside when one-on-one with and brought down by Hart.
With little more than a minute of the regulation 90 left, Villa hearts were broken when a left flank corner came through a crowded six-yard box to find Toure’s replacement Fernandinho. He took the ball on his chest and steered it under Guzan and in to steal a win.
It’s a tough one for Sherwood and Villa supporters to take, but had they cut out their own mistake then headlines would talk of their team taking a second top scalp in the space of seven days.