City must learn to take command, says Pearce

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The Independent Football

City's 3-1 win over Aston Villa on Monday night saw them climb into fourth spot, enough to guarantee Champions' League football next season if it can be sustained.

Although the victory was deserved, it proved far harder to attain than it should have been as City let Villa back into a game they appeared to have no chance of winning at half-time.

And, while Pearce feels there is definite improvement in his side, he believes they need to adopt a harder edge if they are to be serious contenders for a European slot. "We have to become a touch more hard-nosed when we get in front," he observed.

"In the first half against Villa we looked comfortable, but then we lost our way a little bit, gave the ball away far too cheaply and let them back into the game.

"We need to shut up shop and if we find ourselves with a two-goal lead, we should be able to pass the ball and force the opposition to do the running. It is something I want us to work on because we are a dangerous side on the counter-attack."

For a side struggling when Kevin Keegan resigned in March, City have made remarkable progress under Pearce, narrowly missing out on a Uefa Cup spot last term before their impressive start to the current campaign.

Yet Pearce insists his targets have not changed, which is more to do with the high standards he sets his team than having to raise them. "My target is the same as it was at the start of the season," he said. "We are reasonably pleased with where we are, but we can get better and the players know it."

Pearce's aim of building a team which will last took a further step forward with confirmation that the young striker Bradley Wright-Phillips has signed a contract extension to keep him at Eastlands until 2009.

Wright-Phillips, half-brother to the England and Chelsea player Shaun, made his return from knee surgery in Monday night's win and Pearce sees the 20-year-old as providing useful back-up to his preferred partnership of Andy Cole and Darius Vassell, who Pearce feels are working well together.

"They complement each other really well," he said. "Darius has given us the pace and power we have lacked while Andy is the brains who plays the one and two-touch stuff. The more games they play, the better they will get."

Vassell was virtually unstoppable on Monday night, gaining reward for his willingness to pursue lost causes after three minutes when a mix-up between JLloyd Samuel and the goalkeeper Stuart Taylor, who was called on to replace Thomas Sorensen after the Dane was injured in the warm-up, provided him with a tap-in.

The second was a first-time volley into the bottom corner after Cole had lobbed a precise pass into the box.