Bent proves worth as wasteful City pay price

Aston Villa 1 Manchester City 0

At this rate Darren Bent might just make the No 39 shirt his own at Aston Villa. Controversially signed earlier in the week for a club-record outlay of £18 million, potentially rising to £24m, Gérard Houllier's new striker repeated his feat of scoring on his debuts for Charlton and Tottenham by poaching the goal that eased Villa's relegation fears and put a serious dent in Manchester City's title prospects.

The official statistics showed that Bent, who was Sunderland's match-winner against City in August, touched the ball only 27 times during the 90 minutes. To the delight of the home crowd, and the interest of the watching England manager, Fabio Capello, he got the only touch that counted, a classic predator's finish in the 18th minute.

That left Roberto Mancini's side plenty of time to deny Villa a second win in 11 matches. Only in the final six minutes, however, when Ciaran Clark deflected Nigel de Jong's 20-yard volley on to a post and Aleksandar Kolarov's goalbound drive flew behind off Carlos Cuellar, did City look like breaching a defence in which James Collins and Richard Dunne were defiance personified.

Mancini had congratulated Houllier before the game on landing Bent, saying: "You've bought a great player." Afterwards, Houllier labelled Bent "a natural-born goalscorer" whose gift is "something you can't teach". But, the Villa manager noted, it was the collective effort that pleased him most. "The team probably hit rock-bottom in the game at City [a 4-0 defeat last month]. It really affected us. But from that point we've started to pull together a bit more. Physically, we're in bettershape. Mentally, too. When you're one up against a team of that calibre with 10 minutes left, you've got to be strong."

Mancini left quickly after the game to catch a flight to Italy to see his sick father, leaving his No 2, Brian Kidd, to explain the setback. "There wasn't enough urgency in the first half but we put them under severe pressure in the second. I thought Villa put in a great defensive effort. It's a blip for us. Manchester United are going well and undefeated. I've always felt the title was theirs to lose. Our aim is still the top four."

The bubble of optimism surrounding Bent's capture might easily have been burst before he had done anything more than hold the ball up. In the 17th minute, a corner delivered by Kolarov flashed across Villa's six-yard area. Carlos Tevez, of all people, kicked fresh air by the far post, and Villa celebrated their escape by sweeping upfield and scoring. Gabriel Agbonlahor threaded a pass through to Ashley Young, who surged between two defenders and curled a shot which the sprawling Joe Hart could only parry. Bent was on to the loose ball in a flash, angling it into the net before being engulfed by jubilant team-mates.

It said much for City's first-half performance that their best efforts on goal came from a defender and midfielder respectively. Kompany's header, following a corner by Kolarov was turned over by Brad Friedel. Then Jérôme Boateng's cross found Gareth Barry rising unchallenged before the Holte End that once revered him. To a chorus of jeers, the header flashed inches wide.

From the restart City piled forward. They dominated possession, with Tevez taking up a more advanced role, but their intricate moves frequently foundered against a massed defence. Even though Bent was isolated in what had effectively become a 4-5-1 formation, with Agbonlahor almost playing at left-back, Friedel remained largely a spectator.

The Villa fans' sense that this would be their night was enhanced by the sight of the ineffectual Barry trudging off, although his replacement, Adam Johnson, soon took aim with a ferocious shot from the right flank which Villa were relieved to see their goalkeeper smother. Thanks to the heroics of Collins and co, Friedel was able to savour a first clean sheet in 13 matches and Bent's match-winner status was preserved.

Attendance: 37,315

Referee: Howard Webb

Man of the match: Collins

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
The data shows that the number of “unlawfully” large infant classes has doubled in the last 12 months alone
i100Mike Stuchbery, a teacher in Great Yarmouth, said he received abuse
Arts and Entertainment
The starship in Star Wars: The Force Awakens
filmsThe first glimpse of JJ Abrams' new film has been released online
Rio Ferdinand returns for QPR
sportRio Ferdinand returns from his three-game suspension today
The Speaker of the House will takes his turn as guest editor of the Today programme
arts + ents

Watch the spoof Thanksgiving segment filmed for Live!
Billy Twelvetrees will start for England against Australia tomorrow with Owen Farrell dropping to the bench
rugbyEngland need a victory against Australia today
Arts and Entertainment
The cover of The Guest Cat – expect to see it everywhere
Tyson Fury poses outside the Imperial War Museum in south London ahead of his fight against Dereck Chisora
boxingAll British heavyweight clash gets underway on Saturday night
i100 Charity collates series of videos that show acts of kindness to animals
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

Christmas Appeal

Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

Is it always right to try to prolong life?

Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

What does it take for women to get to the top?

Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

French chefs campaign against bullying

A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

Paul Scholes column

I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game