Pearce drives troops towards Europe

Aston Villa 1 - Manchester City 2
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The Independent Online

The abiding memory for Manchester City fans will have been the sight of Stuart Pearce's animated presence on the touchline, shouting, snarling and finger-pointing, as he saw his side go seven games unbeaten with victory over Aston Villa.

The abiding memory for Manchester City fans will have been the sight of Stuart Pearce's animated presence on the touchline, shouting, snarling and finger-pointing, as he saw his side go seven games unbeaten with victory over Aston Villa.

The success sets up a last-day dash for seventh spot, which would see City claim their best-ever finish in the Premier League and, more importantly, a place in next season's Uefa Cup.

But Pearce admitted that despite the team's transformation during his tenure, he will have to wait long after next Sunday's showdown with Middlesbrough at the City of Manchester Stadium before being told if he has permanently been given the job vacated by Kevin Keegan in March.

"It will be an interesting last game on the last day," said Pearce. "Tottenham can still get there. We can get in if we win it and so can Middlesbrough. All I was hoping for when I took over was to not take the team down.

"The chairman has stayed true to his word; he said he will make a decision over the new manager in the summer and as far as I am concerned, that will still apply."

It took just five minutes for Manchester City to find the breakthrough. Shaun Wright-Phillips, with one swift surge through a static defence, put the visitors into the lead with a low drive underneath Thomas Sorensen.

Seven minutes later, with Aston Villa being pushed back into their own half, Pearce's men took greater control of their encounter when the winger Kiki Musampa fired them further ahead.

The energy of this rejuvenated Manchester City side was embodied by Pearce, ensuring that none of his players would be allowed to rest on what seemed, as the half wore on, an increasingly comfortable advantage.

Aston Villa's own slender hopes of Uefa Cup football next season were all but ended with their capitulation at the hands of Tottenham Hotspur last week and the home side's fragile state was exposed frequently by their opponents yesterday.

Manchester City were looking less than secure at the back after the break, though, and on 61 minutes they allowed Villa back into the game. The substitute Nolberto Solano was the architect of the move, his through-ball cleverly dummied by Lee Hendrie for Juan Pablo Angel, the Colombian's powerful effort giving hope to his manager, David O'Leary.

Solano, one of the better performers after the interval, could have added a second for Villa but his free-kick on 82 minutes was tipped over by David James as they pushed for the equaliser. Gareth Barry then came close with a header three minutes before the end, but the visitors held on.

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