Jittery City may bring Tevez in from cold

Aston Villa 0 Manchester City 1: Mancini 'prepared to forgive' errant striker after leaders are given testing time by Villa

Villa Park

Just like Dirty Den or Nick Cotton walking back into the Queen Vic, every good villain needs a comeback and tomorrow Carlos Tevez is expected to return to Manchester.

The striker, who has not played since his alleged refusal to warm up at Bayern Munich in September, and who has been in Argentina since November, is believed to be ready to drop his appeal against the £1.18m fine imposed by the club for his unauthorised departure.

Tevez has concluded that it is in nobody's interests, least of all his own, to remain in Argentina. With the main European transfer window closed until the summer, his only options are Russia, where he is said to be unwilling to go, or a return to Brazil with Corinthians, who may be unable to fund the transfer.

The player has been working with a fitness coach in Buenos Aires and it is his opinion that Tevez might be match-fit in three weeks' time. The Manchester City manager, Roberto Mancini, joked that this was not a good week to talk about handshakes, but added that if Tevez gave a formal apology to himself and his squad, he was prepared to have him back.

"It is up to him," Mancini said. "He knows how I feel. I don't know if he will be in Manchester next week but I hope so. It is a bad moment to talk about handshakes but I forgive people every time."

Of far more importance than any apology will be Tevez's attitude once he returns to Manchester City's training ground at Carrington. As his side tried to break down Aston Villa yesterday evening, the return of the boy from Fuerte Apache might have had some superficial attraction.

However, if Mancini understands anything of the history of Manchester City, he should know that they do not need unbalancing just at the moment they are racing towards a league championship. In 1972 Malcolm Allison persuaded Rodney Marsh to come to Maine Road as a season that should have finished with City taking the championship reached its climax. Instead, it was spectacularly blown by a man who, for all his ability, was loud, arrogant and in no sense a team player.

In the quick feet of David Silva and the drive of Sergio Aguero and Adam Johnson, Mancini has enough individual talent to win the championship without Tevez. The goal here that re-established their two-point lead over Manchester United came from an unfamiliar source, although to the Villa manager, Alex McLeish, losing goals from set pieces has become wearily familiar.

This time the corner was delivered by one player who, had financial circumstances been different, might have been in the home dressing room (James Milner) and headed across goal by another (Gareth Barry). Joleon Lescott hooked his boot around the loose ball to send it past Shay Given as the goalkeeper spread himself in vain.

That appeared to be that. The advertising screens around the perimeter were promoting Villa Park as the ideal venue to "Celebrate your Valentine's event" but it has not seen a home league victory since Bonfire Night and Villa had set themselves up grimly to force a draw. The Taj Mahal at sunrise it is not.

From early on McLeish, Sir Alex Ferguson's first great lieutenant, stood on the touchline urging his players on – to no great effect. He would have wanted to win for his mentor but mostly he would have wanted to win for himself.

And yet right at the finish of a match in which they lacked any kind of penetration, Villa might have snatched a point. First Carlos Cuellar sent a header pounding over Joe Hart's post and then the City goalkeeper pulled off a fabulous reaction save as Darren Bent menaced for the first time. The margins to the end of this season's title race will be dreadfully tight.

From here on in every game for Manchester City will carry this kind of tension. The great template for wealthy, ambitious sides collapsing in the final furlongs is the fall of Kevin Keegan's Newcastle in the spring of 1996.

Everyone remembers the epic contests; the 1-0 loss to Manchester United inspired by Peter Schmeichel and Eric Cantona and the 4-3 defeat at Liverpool, but equally damaging was a 2-1 defeat at Blackburn. The goals were scored by a Geordie named Graeme Fenton for a side that had nothing to play for.

Every game is a potential pitfall and in the face of Aston Villa's rearguard, marshalled magnificently yesterday by Richard Dunne, who suffered a dislocated shoulder for his trouble, and James Collins, Manchester City became bogged down, with only Johnson's wonderful shot that slapped against Given's post to show for their pressure. There were times when it did not seem as if it would be enough.

Match facts

Aston Villa: GIVEN 7/10; HUTTON 7; COLLINS 7; DUNNE 7; CUELLAR 8; HESKEY 5; GARDNER 6; PETROV 6; ALBRIGHTON 6; BENT 6; KEANE 5

Man City: HART 7; KOLAROV 6; LESCOTT 7; KOMPANY 6; ZABALETA 7; MILNER 7; DEJONG 7; SILVA 7; BARRY 7; A JOHNSON 8; AGUERO 7

Scorer: Lescott 63

Substitutes: Aston Villa N'Zogbia 6 (Heskey, 69), Ireland (Albrighton, 77), Baker (Dunne, 90). Manchester City Nasri (A Johnson, 84), Dzeko (Aguero, 89), Richards (Silva, 90).

Booked: Aston Villa Petrov, Dunne, N'Zogbia.

Man of the match Silva.

Match rating 6/10.

Possession: Aston Villa 43% Manchester City 57%.

Attempts on target: Aston Villa 5 Manchester City 10.

Referee M Oliver (Northumberland).

Attendance 35,132.

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