Wright-Phillips sets pace for City's drive towards Europe

Aston Villa 1 - Manchester City 2
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The Independent Online

As much as Aston Villa long for the season's end, Manchester City must wish it had many more weeks to run. Under the refreshing leadership of Stuart Pearce, they continue to exude an autumn-like sharpness that makes the new manager's permanent appointment as big a priority as keeping Shaun Wright-Phillips.

As much as Aston Villa long for the season's end, Manchester City must wish it had many more weeks to run. Under the refreshing leadership of Stuart Pearce, they continue to exude an autumn-like sharpness that makes the new manager's permanent appointment as big a priority as keeping Shaun Wright-Phillips.

There is a touch of irony in the fact that English football's most exciting winger for years is being managed by a former left-back we would all love to have seen try to catch him.

"Actually, it did happen," Pearce said. "I was playing for West Ham and got a good slice of him in a tackle. So did Nigel Winterburn. But he got up and jogged away. I thought: 'I'm going to have to have another bash to knock some spirit out of him.' But he's not physically intimidated. He's small in stature but strong in heart."

Wright-Phillips will eventually force Sven Goran Eriksson to take him seriously as a rival for David Beckham. With the blistering pace that brought the first of two City goals in the opening 12 minutes, Wright-Phillips spread terror through a Villa defence which never recovered.

They provided relatively easy pickings for a side as well-organised, determined and buoyant as City.

The statistics spell out an increasingly compelling case for Pearce. The club's first Premiership manager of the month has overseen their longest unbeaten run at this level since 1994. A Uefa Cup place will be delivered if they can beat Middlesbrough in six days' time at Eastlands.

This first away win under the caretaker, underpinned by a crashing finish from the otherwise wasteful Kizito Musampa, was achieved despite the loss of Richard Dunne and Robbie Fowler.

If injuries are being considered, Villa deserve a degree of sympathy, too. But their well-taken consolation goal from Juan Pablo Angel was no more than that.

They had a sniff of Europe themselves until eight days ago, only for a fifth defeat in five games against Manchester opposition in less than a year to confirm them as mid-table material. Their manager, David O'Leary, will need to spend wisely in the summer if his chairman, Doug Ellis, provides the funds. If you stock your line-up with ordinary players, you will, more often than not, have ordinary results.

Goals: Wright-Phillips (5) 0-1; Musampa (12) 0-2; Angel (61) 1-2.

Aston Villa (4-4-2): Sorensen; De La Cruz, Delaney, Laursen, Samuel (Djemba-Djemba, h-t); Hendrie (Luke Moore, 78), Davis, Hitzlsperger (Solano, h-t), Barry; Angel, Vassell. Substitutes not used: Postma (gk), Ridgewell.

Manchester City (4-4-2): James; Mills, Distin, Onuoha, Thatcher; S Wright-Phillips, Barton, Reyna, Musampa; Macken (Croft, 79), Sibierski (B Wright-Phillips, 70). Substitutes not used: Weaver (gk), Sommeil, Jordan.

Referee: R Beeby (Northamptonshire).

Booked: Aston Villa: Solano; Manchester City Barton.

Man of the match: S Wright-Phillips.

Attendance: 39,645.

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