Aston Villa returned to action for the first time since the defeat to Manchester United at the beginning of January with a 2-0 defeat to Man City.
Dean Smith was able to name his strongest team on paper with Ross Barkley returning to the first team after being out of action since the end of November. Fitness levels would be the only question mark hanging over Villa as they faced an in-form City side at the Etihad.
City were straight out the blocks from the off and if it wasn’t for brave defending from Villa they could have taken a very early lead. The ball fell to Bernardo Silva just six yards out from the goal but was denied by Emi Martinez who was quick to spread himself before Matty Cash dived in to deflect John Stones’ follow up over the bar.
Phil Foden was a constant threat for Cash and was denied a few minutes later as Ezri Konsa got himself between the goal and the ball.
Despite Man City’s dominance, Villa did have chances of their own. First, Bertrand Traore showed clever footwork to beat Joao Cancelo but his final shot didn’t match his skill. Then Ross Barkley broke with the ball on the counter-attack but a poor pass failed to find Jack Grealish who have been through on goal.
Man City continued to pile on the pressure but Villa would have been happy with their defensive efforts as they went in at half time all level. It was clear they lacked match sharpness as simple passes were going wayward but their defensive work was something to admire.
Two goals. Two controversial decisions
As the game progressed, Villa got deeper and deeper and looked less of a threat but at the same time looked comfortable. As I watched on, despite our recent issues, I started to believe that it was possible to take something from the game. Well, until John Moss decided otherwise that is.
Ten minutes from time, the ball fell to Tyrone Mings who attempted to bring the ball down but was tackled by Rodri who was returning from an offside position. He played the ball to Silva whos clever finish went past Martinez to give Pep Guardiola’s side the lead.
Later it was revealed that it was in fact legit goal. That legit that only the referee seemed to understand the rules as BT Sports referee pundit Peter Walton later admitted that he had to red up on the rules to understand them.
Villa were furious and so was manager Smith. He was shown a yellow card and then a red for suggesting Moss had received ‘Juggling Balls’ for Christmas, insulating that he was a clown. Not the worst thing in the world a manager has probably said and only what the whole watching world thought unless you were of City blue persuasion of course.
Just moments from the final whistle, Moss was at it again when he harshly awarded a penalty after Cash appeared to handball. Funnily enough, nothing was mentioned about Harry Maguire’s handball late on in our last outing and neither was the one that harshly caught a Man City players hand in the first half. Ilkay Gundogan stepped up and doubled their lead and confirmed all three points.
Proud and disappointing
I am sure I am not alone when I say I was proud of the player’s defensive display. We are not foolish enough to believe that we deserved to win the game. Overall, Man City were the best side and would have been unlucky had they not won the game but it’s the circumstances in which they won the game.
It is disappointing that we have lost yet another game through controversial officiating. Ironically, they say that it swings in roundabouts across the whole season, I guess we are due a hell of a lot of luck throughout the rest of the season. And before someone brings up the Sheffield United incident last season – there are more than 43 minutes in a game!