With high flying Manchester City paying a visit to Villa Park, Paul Lambert, who’d so recently spoken about how he would not waiver from his all out attacking game plan, set out with one goal in mind: defend. Aston Villa set up in a 5-3-2 formation and spent the majority of the first half camped in front of Brad Guzan’s goal. One wonders how much of this was due to the injuries to Gabriel Agbonlahor and Christian Benteke, and how much was a shift change in Lambert’s thinking?
Either way, the more defensively minded Villa managed to hold off the visitors until just before the halftime whistle. Brad Guzan and Nathan Baker did well to deny a goal from Edin Dzeko. Fabian Delph managed a last-minute clearance to keep out Manchester City, while Antonio Luna cleared a header from Yaya Toure off the line.
But an air of inevitablity hung over Villa Park, and there was really very little surprise when Manchester City scored their first goal. Karim El Ahmadi did his best to clear a corner — City’s ninth — but the ball fell to Yaya Toure, whose lightening quick reflexes saw him flicking it through Guzan’s legs almost immediately. While likely caught off guard, the Villa keeper really should have done better to keep out the goal.
Down a goal with the second half still to play, Lambert clearly needed to adjust his tactics. He made no substitutions but it seemed Luna and Leandro Bacuna were given more freedom to get forward, shifting to more of a true 3-5-2. It was Bacuna who got himself into a dangerous position at the edge of City’s area. The Villa wingback for a day neatly slid a short ball through to El Ahmadi, who easily knocked past Joe Hart. The Manchester City players had their arms up for offside, but no flag was given.
It took just five minutes for the visitors to pull ahead once again, however. Samir Nasri put in the corner and Dzeko escaped his man, able to put a free header past Guzan. Villa, it seemed, were in for a long day at the office.
Yet somehow the rag-tag bunch of youngsters, without their two best players at the helm, managed to not only equalize, but to put themselves ahead. Matija Nastasic felt Andreas Weimann to be a threat, fouling him just outside the area. It was Bacuna who stepped up to take the free kick, putting in a beautiful shot that curled over the Manchester City wall and into the top left corner.
What happened next was perhaps even more improbable, however. It was City’s defense that was caught napping this time, with Weimann able to easily slide through and go one-on-one with Hart. His shot almost seemed to trickle in, watched as if in slow motion by the faithful at Villa Park.
But the fans in Birmingham still had fifteen minutes, plus injury time, to get through — a very uncomfortable period when you’re rather used to your side leaking goals. The home crowd also had to face five minutes of added time as they wiggled in their seats. Yet somehow the Villa stood strong, ending the match with all three points to their name.
Aston Villa: Guzan, Bacuna, Vlaar, Baker, Clark, El Ahmadi, Luna, Delph, Sylla, Weimann (Bowery 80), Kozak
Subs: Steer, Bennett, Helenius, Albrighton, Tonev, Lowton
Manchester City: Hart; Zabaleta, Kompany, Nastasic, Kolarov; Nasri (Navas 66), Fernandinho, Toure, Milner; Negredo, Dzeko (Jovetic 74)
Subs: Pantilimon, Richards, Lescott, Clichy, Garcia