Undone by a mystifying decision from Holmes that even Sherlock would have struggled to solve – but in future Villa need to offer at least an elementary response.
When assistant referee Adrian Holmes raised his flag to award Manchester City a truly bizarre penalty at the Etihad Stadium after a ‘handball’ from Andreas Weimann, and Sergio Aguero converted the resulting spot-kick, it signalled the end of the match as a contest.
Villa boss Paul Lambert and his players were understandably aggrieved with the decision and it was undoubtedly the turning point in a game where the visitors had more than held their own until that point.
“He might not watch it on Match of the Day, he’ll probably be on a night out somewhere,” Lambert said of the judgement meted out by Holmes.
However, the reaction of Villa’s players when things go against them has been a regular theme of performances over the past few seasons. And it is one Lambert should dig out his magnifying glass for and try to get to the bottom of.
When a bad decision favours the opposition it should serve as a motivational tool and fuel a ‘right we’ll show you’ sense of injustice.
Yes, Villa’s players vehemently protested the bizarre decision by linesman Holmes but the raised adrenaline levels did not spark a reaction when play resumed. It should have. There was a cause to fight for, and one that should have prompted an answer. Instead, there was a sense of inevitability and acceptance over the hand that fate had dealt them.
While Villa did not roll over, their response was tame against a City side with all the craft and guile of Moriarty himself.
It was always going to be difficult for Villa to replicate their magnificent Capital One Cup victory on this ground. After all City had not lost a league game at home for 36 games before this match – the second-best unbeaten home league run in the 21-year history of the Premier League.
And Villa need to show more of the fearless battling qualities evident in the 4-2 win on that September night in the forthcoming weeks because this defeat – combined with Reading’s surprise win over Everton – plunged them into the bottom three.
With almost a third of the campaign gone there are more than a few nerves among the claret and blue faithful.
Lambert named an unchanged side from the one that lost 3-2 at home to Manchester United, although Nathan Baker replaced Derrick Williams on the substitutes’ bench after he had recovered from an ankle injury.
City controlled the early stages of the game and threatened the Villa goal when Brazil right-back Douglas Maicon volleyed a dangerous ball across the face of goal but nobody in a sky blue shirt could get a touch.
Villa had a clear-cut chance to open the scoring in the 18th minute after Enda Stevens found some space on the left flank and floated a cross into the box in the direction of Christian Benteke. The Belgium striker’s downward header seemed destined to bounce into the top corner but City keeper Joe Hart was somehow able to claw the ball away. But that was as good as it got for Villa.
Roberto Mancini’s side looked dangerous from corners, with Yaya Toure and Matija Nastasic both heading over.
And it was from a Samir Nasri flag-kick that City took the lead two minutes before the half-time break, when Villa failed to clear the lines and David Silva bundled home from close range.
City doubled their lead in the 54th minute with that debatable penalty after assistant referee Holmes flagged for handball when Nasri’s corner struck Weimann.
Aguero converted the spot-kick with a low shot into the bottom-right corner of the net, and City could not believe their luck when referee Jon Moss pointed to the spot for a second time in the 65th minute.
This time the decision was more clear-cut as Barry Bannan’s hand touched the ball when he slid in on Silva inside the area and Carlos Tevez sent Brad Guzan the wrong way from the spot.
City began to carve open the Villa defence at will and added a fourth in the 67th minute on the counter attack, when Guzan failed to keep out Aguero’s slightly deflected low shot at his near post.
The chances continued to come for City and they made it 5-0 in the 74th minute, with a fine team goal, which culminated in Nasri’s low cross for Tevez to tap home.
A long-range shot from Brett Holman in the 85th minute was the best Villa could muster, while City were unlucky not to add to the total as Scott Sinclair and Tevez both went close late on.
By Timothy Abraham