Much more of this and Sven Goran Eriksson will want rewarding for services to England. Micah Richards is thriving under his care for club and country, and now Michael Johnson, the England Under-19 international who Eriksson has made a fixture at the heart of his multinational Manchester City side, is showing all the signs of following that ascent. The 19-year-old Mancunian yesterday scored a rampaging second-half goal to win this match and propel City to second in the Premiership.
"Michael Johnson is an all-round midfielder," Eriksson said. "Most have a speciality, whether it's attacking, defending, passing, shooting. But you can't say his speciality because he's good at all of them. To take the goal in the way he did was very mature, showed no panic. He is a very good footballer and he will continue to get better."
Johnson joined City from Everton's youth set-up in 2004. He was part of the City youth team that reached the 2006 FA Youth Cup final, and made his first-team debut last October. "I had heard about him before I arrived," Eriksson said. "He played something like nine games at the end of last season. When I met him, he said to me: 'I came along and saved City [from relegation]!' He's certainly got confidence."
The goal, in the 48th minute, arrived after the stand out move of a fast-paced game. Didi Hamann, a string-pulling colossus yesterday, picked up the ball in midfield and played inside to Johnson. The teenager laid off to Elano and started a run from the half-way line, darting past Nigel Reo-Coker to pick up the return. He kept going, on and on, first holding off Reo-Coker, then slipping between two others before sliding the ball low into the net.
Only Arsenal lie above City this morning. "I'd be happy if the league was over," Eriksson joked. Liverpool, Manchester United – all importantly – and Chelsea trail a point in City's wake. Eriksson left with not just all the points but a Manager of the Month award for August, the praise of an over-the-blue-moon faithful, and even a hint of Lazarus about him.
Heck, he even seems to believe he can revive Darius Vassell's career. The former England striker last kicked a ball in anger under Eriksson when he missed the penalty that led to England exiting Euro 2004. Yesterday Eriksson gave him his first action of the season, on the right wing, where he made a sporadic nuisance of himself before going off with a knock. "He's as good as he was when he played for England," Eriksson said afterwards. Seeing as Eriksson never picked him again after 2004, that could be taken two ways.
Eriksson had to reshape his side from the XI who lost at Blackburn a fortnight ago. Richard Dunne was suspended, Stephen Ireland dropped because of his claims about the deaths of multiple grannies, and Rolando Bianchi was benched. Nedum Onuoha, Vassell and Emile Mpenza came in. Kasper Schmeichel kept his place in goal even though Andreas Isaksson is back from injury.
Villa, starting with the same side who beat Chelsea 2-0 a fortnight ago, started the brighter team, but, as their manager Martin O'Neill said afterwards: "The truth of the matter is we didn't do enough. It's not that we didn't attempt to, but we couldn't actually do it."
John Carew, all hustle and bustle, epitomised that, no more so than early on when easing past Javier Garrido to cut in and shoot, straight at Vedran Corluka's bottom. Luke Moore later slipped a cross-shot across an open goal, while Laursen headed narrowly wide at a corner. Zat Knight also had a late "goal" disallowed for handball.
City were more consistently threatening. Corluka shot wide from 35 yards. Vassell's skimmed header was not far off target. Johnson produced a good reaction block from Scott Carson. Vassell set up Mpenza, but Laursen blocked. The goal arrived, galvanised City further, and only an injury-time clearance off the line by Gareth Barry from Bianchi stopped a second.
Goal: Johnson (48) 1-0.
Manchester City (4-4-2): Schmeichel; Onuoha, Corluka, Richards, Garrido; Vassell (Sun Jihai, 65), Hamann, Johnson, Petrov; Elano (Ball, 83), Mpenza (Bianchi, 86). Substitutes not used: Hart (gk), Fernandes
Aston Villa (4-4-2): Carson; Mellberg, Knight, Laursen, Bouma (Gardner, 82); Agbonlahor, Reo-Coker (Petrov, 82), Barry, Young; Carew (Maloney, 66), Moore. Substitutes not used: Taylor (gk), Davies
Referee: M Atkinson (Yorkshire)
Booked: Man City Sun Jihai. Aston Villa Moore
Man of the match: Hamann.
Attendance: 38,363.Reuse content