A blue moon made only a fleeting appearance at Villa Park last night but it stayed long enough to turn the air a similar colour.
Micah Richards had only just returned to earth following the towering 94th-minute header that earned Manchester City a draw they hardly deserved having dominated Aston Villa when he was pulled aside for an immediate post-match interview with the BBC's Garth Crooks. In explaining his first goal on only his second start for City the 17-year-old inadvertently let slip a brief expletive live on national television, prompting a mild rebuke from Crooks and a public apology from the Match of the Day presenter Gary Lineker. Having also been booked for celebrating his equaliser among the City fans the Birmingham-born Richards is unlikely to forget his moment of glory in a hurry, especially now that a date in Stuart Pearce's office looms. "He is a 17-year-old who has just scored his first goal for the club," said the City manager. "I will have a word with him, but I will forgive him."
Pearce has every reason to be charitable this morning. His side were seconds from an unjust exit in the FA Cup when Richards finally showed his more experienced and profligate colleagues how to beat Thomas Sorensen, converting Joey Barton's corner with the game's final touch. He added: " I am delighted for Micah and the players, we deserved to win three or four one. Micah's father follows him everywhere and watches every game he plays, as my parents did from my early schooldays. That tells me a lot about his background and I hope he is here for a long time to come."
The immediate future for Richards is an FA Youth Cup appearance against United on Thursday, though Pearce has yet to decide whether he will make the teenager available. City will take their participation in the senior competition as their right.
Pearce would have been forgiven for telling the Football Association where to stick any interview it intends to offer him in the near future, given his treatment in its cherished competition. Having dominated throughout and been urged on by 6,000 vocal supporters, in contrast to the Villa fans who deserted their club en masse, City were set to pay a heavy price for their wastefulness when, in the 72nd minute, Milan Baros drove David O'Leary's team in front with only their second shot. Then Richards' moment of glory arrived, and justice was done.
City's dominance was demonstrated by the ease with which they created seven clear openings within the opening half-hour. The one glaring weakness of their performance was the failure to convert any, with Darius Vassell chief among those destroying the patience of his manager on the touchline to the delight of his former club.
Though Villa improved immeasurably in the second half City's superiority remained evident. Yet losing a lead they barely deserved proved too much for O'Leary, who sent his trusted assistant Roy Aitken to speak to the press afterwards. "The manager is so frustrated he can't talk," said the Scot. He had a nerve.
Goals: Baros (72) 1-0; Richards (90)1-1.
Aston Villa (4-4-2): Sorensen; Hughes, Delaney (Ridgewell, 46), Mellberg, Samuel; Milner, Davis, McCann, Barry; Baros, Moore (Angel, 63). Substitutes not used: Taylor (gk), Hendrie, Phillips.
Manchester City (4-4-2): James; Richards, Dunne, Distin, Jordan; Sibierski (Croft, 80), Barton, Musampa, Riera; Samaras, Vassell (Wright-Phillips, 83). Substitutes not used: Weaver (gk), Sommeil, Ireland.
Referee: G Poll (Hertfordshire).
Booked: Aston Villa Mellberg; Manchester City Dunne, Barton, Richards.
Man of the match: Barton.
* The FA will confirm this week that Wembley will not be ready in time for the FA Cup final on 13 May, according to reports last night. Legal wrangles and complications with the £757m stadium have forced the FA to return to the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff. The official announcement is expected on Thursday.
FA CUP LAST EIGHT
Aston Villa or Man City Birmingham City
West Ham or Bolton
(FA Cup sixth-round draw 13.00 today, BBC 2, and Radio Five Live)