Blues rue missed opportunity to extend lead at top
FA Premier League
Sunday 08 November 2015, 13.30 KO
City: Hart, Sagna, Kompany, Otamendi, Kolarov, Fernando, Fernandinho, Toure (Delph 82), De Bruyne, Sterling (Iheanacho 84), Bony (Navas 25)
Unused: Caballero, Demichelis, Mangala, Clichy
Referee: Graig Pawson
Man of the match: Navas
City missed the opportunity to extend their lead at the top of the Premier League after a frustrating 0-0 draw at Villa Park. The home side, bottom of the league but lifted by the appointment of Remi Garde, defended resolutely throughout, although the Blues will rue a series of squandered chances as they dominated the second half.
Villa started brightly, and enjoyed a spell of early possession without ever really testing Joe Hart; Vincent Kompany and Nicolas Otamendi looked an assured partnership at the back once more. City had the first opportunity of the afternoon, when Aleksandar Kolarov linked up with Raheem Sterling, before forcing Brad Guzan into a routine save at his near post. After 25 minutes Wilfried Bony pulled up with a hamstring problem, and was forced to leave the pitch. The obvious replacement on the bench was the exciting young Nigerian Kelechi Iheanacho, but Manuel Pellegrini opted instead for experience in the form of Jesus Navas.
Kevin De Bruyne was pushed into an unfamiliar striking role, and the Blues looked somewhat disjointed for the remaining 20 minutes of the half. Perhaps the midweek exhertions in Sevilla began to take their toll, with City wasteful in possession and lacking a cutting edge up front. Still, the visitors were rightly aggrieved not to be awarded a penalty when referee Pawson failed to spot Cian Clark's clumsy trip on Sterling in the area.
They started the second half with greater purpose, Pellegrini's half-time words still ringing in their ears no doubt. Navas crossed well, only for Sterling to head straight at Guzan with the goal gaping. The England winger has faced criticism for his finishing in the past, and this was a gilt-edged opportunity.
Navas' recent good form continued (indeed, he could consider himself unlucky to be benched from the start), and another neat cross found De Bruyne free in the six yard box. The Belgian's clumsy attempt at a flick went well wide, and another good opportunity was squandered.
Fabian Delph entered the fray with ten minutes remaining, replacing the tiring Yaya Toure, and the home crowd showed their displeasure at his move from Birmingham to Manchester as grown men hissed and waved inflatable snakes. Presumably none of them have ever changed jobs for greater pay and opportunities. City still had one last attempt to get the victory that their performance probably merited, but Fernando thumped his header off the cross bar in injury time and that was that.
Pellegrini will have been disappointed with only a point, but with City still top of the league, thanks to a draw in the North London derby, and David Silva and Sergio Aguero expected to return following the international break he won't be despondent for long.