Pictures and analysis of Aston Villa 0 Man City 1

Now for the games that really matter at Aston Villa.

Now for the games that really matter at Aston Villa.

Aston Villa must begin their two dates with destiny from a starting position in the bottom three but with their spirit at least intact.

A whole-hearted effort against Manchester City was not enough to change the heavily-predicted outcome as, with the help of a calamitous moment from Ciaran Clark, the champions continued the perhaps token pursuit of their neighbours with a solitary goal from Carlos Tevez in first-half added time.

That much was to be expected. What is much less certain – but even more critical – is how Villa will fare in the games which now follow against Reading and QPR, the only two teams beneath them, and in that context their supporters would not have left this game any more disheartened than they have been all season.

Paul Lambert’s willing bunch of triers threw themselves at City with all they could muster and occasionally brought some discomfort to the Premier League’s most heavily-resourced unit. But it never carried the conviction or the quality to retrieve the point Villa gave themselves a chance of earning by restricting Tevez and Co to their single goal.

Not for the first time, Villa were reminded that the Premier League is an unforgiving college for young students of the game.

Such is this thin squad’s glaring lack of experience, Clark finds himself captaining the team barely 60 games into his senior career.

But armband or not, he is still a young player who needs to make the mistakes from which he will learn – and Villa are in this dire predicament because they are asking Clark and his contemporaries to do so against some of the best players in the world.

The brutal lesson was driven home just as the public address system confirmed two minutes of added time at the end of the first half.

A momentary lapse in concentration was Clark’s undoing as he collected a throw-in, hesitated, attempted a turn inside the challenge of Edin Dzeko only for City’s striker, a first-half substitute for the eternal casualty that is Jack Rodwell, to anticipate the movement.

Villa were caught hopelessly exposed. Dzeko fed Tevez who feinted to shoot, cut inside the despairing lunges in front of him and drilled home the goal that rendered meaningless a solid half of toil from the home side.

In truth it had a familiar pattern to it – Villa starting brightly and energetically, initially unsettling the champions’ attempts to impose their own tempo on proceedings.

Before his goal, Tevez’s most important moment of goalmouth action was to deny Villa’s best effort, a thundering 21st-minute header from Christian Benteke direct from a Charles N’Zogbia corner. But all too often this season, Villa fans have watched their brittle team’s initial promise melt away and, by the time the half went into the latter stages, the tide of chances were beginning to roll back Brad Guzan’s defenders into ever deeper resistance.

Guzan was splendid again. His best effort was the full-stretch, strong-hand deflection of Pablo Zabaletta’s 37th-minute effort on to his right-hand post from a cutting move orchestrated by David Silva.

But there were important stops, too, from James Milner and Tevez as City began to stoke up the engines.

Villa were never able to repeat the intensity of their opening 25 minutes but they did at least show they still have heart for the contest stretching before them both in this game and beyond. When, for example, Matthew Lowton repeated Clark’s error 10 minutes after the restart to be caught by Dzeko fumbling his possession, he had sprinted back spiritedly to clear off the line the eventual shot from Tevez.

TV playbacks confirmed Benteke might easily have earned his team a penalty from Matija Nastasic’s mis-timed challenge after 86 minutes.

But the task was not made any easier when, moments later, a caution for Fabian Delph meant he will miss the two games that now loom like monsters baring down on Lambert’s young charges.

“We’ll fight to the end,” chanted City fans in a message to United.

It resonated through the home sections too.

By Martin Swain