Villa's limitations are exposed by Wright-Phillips

Manchester City 2 - Aston Villa 0
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That Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester United will ultimately occupy the top three positions in the Premiership, in one order or another, seems inevitable. What will happen immediately beneath them is much less certain.

On Saturday, Aston Villa arrived at the City of Manchester Stadium on the back of three successive wins, looking to move back into the top five. They never looked like doing so once Jon Macken had put Manchester City into the lead on the half hour. And that fact, according to their manager, David O'Leary, is indicative of the challenge ahead.

"We can't compete for a Champions' League spot at the moment," he said. "We have to start building a platform so we can consistently contend for a Uefa Cup spot. To do that we have to improve the squad but it's hard, because everyone else is trying to do that as well.

"We've only got 14 senior players and then the kids at the moment, so we need four or five to get our numbers up. If I get some money I've identified the players. The board know who I'd like to bring in. If I've got no money then I'm quite enjoying that, working with the players I've got."

Villa's future depends on O'Leary extending his stay. The sticking point is whether his back-room staff, including Roy Aitken, the assistant manager, are awarded similar deals to O'Leary.

"I'm willing to sign a new contract, there's no problem there," O'Leary said. "But I need the help of Roy and my small team. They are a big part of the success of this club."

For Aitken and co at Villa, read Shaun Wright-Phillips at City, who was again a unanimous man of the match. His left-footed drive from outside the area was a strike of the highest quality. More impressively still, it was the 23-year-old who had started the move with a dribble and cross-field pass to Antoine Sibierski.

"It isn't a question of if Shaun will get into the England team, it's when," said Kevin Keegan, the City manager, who was delighted to see his side complete back-to-back Premiership victories for the first time in 18 months.

"And when he gets in he'll stay there. Whether it's in one month or three months or whatever, it doesn't matter. He's doing everything: shooting, passing and even tracking back. We play him wide right but he can play narrower in central midfield or even in a diamond. He's improving all the time - and it's not happening slowly. I don't need to enter a debate about England because he's doing that for himself."

After the Wright-Phillips show the second half was largely a non-event - until the last few minutes. First Juan Pablo Angel's penalty was saved by David James, and the Colombian forward headed the rebound over.

Then Lee Hendrie was sent off after Mike Riley, the referee, found his pretence of aiming a head-butt at Danny Mills rather more convincing than the City defender did. Both managers hope the ban will be revoked, but O'Leary was quick to admit that Hendrie is involved in far too many such incidents, having only returned in this match from his latest suspension.

If Villa's squad is as threadbare as he insists, Hendrie is a liability they can ill afford.

Goals: Macken (27) 1-0; Wright-Phillips (37) 2-0.

Manchester City (4-4-2): James; Mills, Dunne, Distin (Onuoha, 72), Jordan; S Wright-Phillips, Bosvelt, Barton, Sibierski; Fowler, Macken. Substitutes not used: Waterreus (gk), Sommeil, B Wright-Phillips, Flood.

Aston Villa (4-4-2): Sorensen; De La Cruz, Delaney, Mellberg, Samuel; Solano, Hendrie, McCann, Barry (Hitzlsperger, 60); Angel, Cole (Moore, 60). Substitutes not used: Postma (gk), Ridgewell, Davis.

Referee: M Riley (West Yorkshire).

Booked: Manchester City: Dunne. Aston Villa: Delaney. Sent off: Aston Villa: Hendrie.

Man of the match: S Wright-Phillips.

Attendance: 44,530.

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