Martin O'Neill is never one to panic, but his internal emotions must be in complete turmoil at the moment following another desperate disappointment for Aston Villa at Eastlands last night. Goals in each half from Elano and Shaun Wright-Phillips were more than enough to secure Manchester City's fifth straight home Premier League victory and leave O'Neill fighting his increasing frustrations.
Villa were lacklustre, to say the least, and have almost forgotten what winning feels like. This was their sixth game without such a sensation and O'Neill said: "It can't be nerves because we have never been in this position before. We didn't do well enough in the first half. But it's exciting for the players.
"There are 10 games to go and they haven't been in this situation ever. We need to press on. The players are genuinely excited about it and why not? It's something we should really have a go at. We just need to get out on the field and win some matches. We will be going away for two days and it will be a chance for the players to rest up a bit. We have got tough matches coming up, but if that doesn't excite them then they shouldn't be playing. I'm looking forward to the break from games because we can get ready again and make a charge for it. It would be a shame to give it all up without a fight."
Villa appear to have crashed head first into a brick wall and only time will tell if the injuries currently being inflicted on them prove fatal. O'Neill is desperate for his side to break into the coveted company of the top four teams in the Premier League but on recent evidence there is still much progress to be made. City, so consistently unpredictable, dominated the game from start to finish despite having to cope without the twin threat of Craig Bellamy and Robinho, who were suffering from knee and ankle injuries respectively. Recalled to the starting line-up as a result was Felipe Caicedo, the Ecuador international.
Villa enjoyed a spell of pressure midway through the second half but the fact remains that Shay Given was forced to make one save, albeit a very impressive one to keep out Gareth Barry's dipping volley from Gabriel Agbonlahor's cross in the 71st minute.
Inspired by Elano and Wright-Phillips, the home side took the lead on 24 minutes when the latter was tripped from behind by James Milner. The subsequent penalty was confidently dispatched by Elano.
City's advantage remained until the final minute of normal time when Wright-Phillips made it 2-0 with a calm finish past Brad Friedel, for whom it was difficult not to feel sorry, considering he had been the only Villa player to emerge with any credit from an otherwise muted display from the visitors. This was not the response O'Neill will have been looking for considering Villa's capitulation against Stoke City last weekend when they conceded two goals in the last two minutes and dropped two valuable points.
City, on the other hand, can look forward with confidence to what remains of the campaign if this is anything to go by. This was their ninth victory on home soil and enough to lift them to eighth place in the table.
It was the perfect tonic to the news that Bellamy will be out for at least a month with a knee injury and City manager, Mark Hughes, said: "We were terrific throughout. We started the game well and continued that through to the end. Aston Villa had a brief spell of pressure after half-time but I can only remember Shay having one real genuine save to make."
Goals: Elano pen (24) 1-0; Wright-Phillips (89) 2-0.
Manchester City (4-1-4-1): Given; Zabaleta, Onuoha, Dunne, Bridge; De Jong (Fernandes, 47); Wright-Phillips, Kompany, Elano (Bojinov, 83), Ireland; Caicedo (Evans, 74). Substitutes not used: Hart (gk), Vassell, Garrido, Berti.
Aston Villa (4-4-2): Friedel; Cuellar (Gardner, 88), Knight, Davies (Carew, h-t), L Young; Milner, Petrov, Barry, A Young; Agbonlahor, Heskey. Substitutes not used: Guzan (gk), Harewood, Delfouneso, Reo-Coker, Shorey.
Referee: C Foy (Merseyside).
Booked: Manchester City Caicedo; Aston Villa Milner, Barry.
Man of the match: Wright-Phillips.