Date:Sunday September 29 2013
Attendance: 34 063
Aston Villa v Man City
After a midweek League Cup drubbing to Spurs, the last club we probably wanted to welcome to a leaky Villa Park is Man City, a team awash with world class players and Abu Dhabi money. Indeed, when the team sheet flashes on the flat screen in the Holte Pub, those Mancunian Galactico names stand out. Someone knocks back the dregs of a pint and comments that we have absolutely no chance. If I could be bothered I'd remind him that football is played on grass and not paper; that he should have some faith and not hang too much on a name, though who am I kidding: Dzeko, Negredo, Nasri, Silva, Navas and Kompany are quite some bunch.
I remind myself that we work exceptionally hard on and off the ball and have character, yet with no Agbonlahor our threat will be limited. Delph and Weimann are back but that will hardly send shivers down the City spine will it? Still, as we walk across to the Holte End I remind the Mrs that they are yet to win away from home; that no game in the Premier League is a walk over.
As I take my seat I comment to the bloke next to me that it looks like a 3-5-2, with Luna and Bacuna cutting in from the wings. Good tactics from the gaffer. He is in agreement. Clark, Vlaar and Baker will sit behind El Ahmadi, Delph and Sylla. It's going to be a tight midfield, with relief out wide, leaving Kozak and Weimann to work the front line. As we hit the 3pm mark referee Mike Jones sends us on our way.
Despite a high-tempo start from Villa, City soon start to exploit the wider spaces and the possession stats start to swing heavily in city's favour. The half is soon dominated by City though we are working exceptionally hard, harrowing and haunting all of City's good work. Delph and El Ahmadi are right on it. You'd expect nothing less.
In the first five minutes Dzeko dummies Kolarov's teasing ball, allowing James Milner to craft a nice effort, though it is agonisingly wide. Within ten minutes Nasri plays a through ball for Dzeko but his neat shot is saved by Villa Keeper, Brad Guzan.
The team are working hard to keep their shape and their high-tempo. City have little space in the middle and are closed down quickly, though our counter play is often broken down or wasted after excess triangles or inaccurate passes up front.
It takes around half-an hour before we get our first chance: a 25 yard kick which is curled over the bar by El Ahmadi. Weimann is constantly looking for the knock on or through pass with Guzan kicking toward Kozak at every opportunity.
As we move toward the end of the first-half the Man City corners start to mount up. On 39' minutes Ciaran Clark concedes another after sending Kolarov's threatening cross over the bar from 3 yrds out. That could easily have been an own-goal. Good reactions from the Irish international. From the resulting corner Toure fashions a snap chance, though his effort is somehow cleared off the line by Clark and Kozak. Its an absolute scramble down their. Some plucky, dog fighting defending from the Villa boys digs us out of the hole and the ball goes clear.
Toure, who is just unplayable, gets another opportunity to open City's account, He brings the ball out of midfield and takes a shot, though this one is deflected, flying just wide of Guzan's near post. The Villa keeper new nothing about that. A close shave. However, there is no mistake from the resulting corner. Nasri sends in a dipping in-swinger and its that man again: Toure connects and sends a touch-volley beneath Guzan. Awful time to concede though it had been coming. On 45' minutes 0-1 City.
I take a loo break. A guy at the urinals comments to me that we will be lucky to escape a hammering; that we have thrown the game away. I disagree. If anything we are riding our luck. City have been dominant and have maximised the space on the flanks, with Toure commanding like a colossus from midfield, but we have sucked most of it up.
Three things always impresses me about Villa under Lambert: the work rate, the fitness and the character of the squad. They have been through fire together. No team in the Premier League knows quite how to survive a battle like we do and it has made us tough, in mind spirit and body. The lion continues to roar. Man City might have the billions but we have the fight and in tells when 6' minutes into the second half, Leandro Bacuna plays El Ahmadi in with a defence cutting pass. The Moroccan international takes a couple of touches and sends the ball across Hart into the far corner. A gloomy Holte End erupts. City are stunned. They thought this would be a stroll. On 51' minutes its 1-1
Our joy is short lived. 6' minutes later a City corner leads to a goal bound header from Dzeko after yet another in-swinger from Nasri. The away fans go crazy at the far end of the Doug Ellis Stand. Its so predictable it's unreal. On 57' minutes its 1-2 City.
What follows is more hard work from Villa, high-tempo football and 70% possession from City with Villa looking to hit City on the break. On 73' minutes such an opportunity occurs. Weimann is clattered and the referee awards free kick from 20 yards out.
Leandro Bacuna steps up - a player who was written off before he'd even had chance to establish himself. Can he add to his assist with a goal? I have to be honest, I am not expecting it to go in. He takes the kick and.....Now, I admit that I hear the noise first. I blink and look again. Yes, its in.... and then I explode into wild celebration. I pick the Mrs up. Yes Yes Yes. We are going mental in L8. That was some strike from the £1.8m signing from Groningen. Joe Hart was left standing in concrete boots. Incredible stuff. On 73' minutes 2-2.
Villa Park is rocking. The atmosphere is electric. I hope we can hang on. Please God. Two minutes later Brad Guzan sends a goal kick toward Kozak. Kompany and Nastasic leave it to each other, both preoccupied with the towering Kozak. The ball beats them both and Weimann runs on to it. Hart rushes out, the Villa striker poking it past him.... yes... yes....yes...... It's there. Madness on the Holte. In three minutes we have put City on their very expensive behinds. Weimann celebrates in front of the Holte End, arms out stretched in victory. On 75' minutes its 3-2 Villa.
Man City might well leave Villa Park wondering what its like to lay claim to something as great as the Holte End. It's the sound of football thunder, born of the faithful. There's a remarkable energy to it and it feeds the players as they fight to see out the game.
Weimann goes off with a hobble to a standing ovation. Bowery replaces him, adding height and strength to the forward line. Despite 5' minutes of added time and quite a few bitten nails, we see out the game. At full time 3-2 Villa.
The Mrs and I stare at each other incredulously. I have to check the score a few times. I am speechless. The talk at the bar is all about Leandro Bacuna. Emotionally exhausted, all I can do is nod and mumble my agreement though I am in no doubt: his killer pass and world class free kick put the Man City road show on ice and all it took him was two magic minutes. That's what you can do in this league, if you only dare to believe.
What touched me the most was the way the team celebrated with each other. You can see what it means to them. Yes, we had 33% possession but we made it count with some whole hearted counter-attacking play. Knock out football. I hope its enough to make the doubters sit up. Write us off at your peril.
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Date:Sunday September 29 2013
|4.||Pride of Lions||168|
|West Ham||0||-||0||Aston Villa|
|9. Man Utd||15||6||4||5||3||22|
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|12. Hull City||15||5||3||7||-6||18|
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