Aston Villa 4 Manchester City 2
Gabriel Agbonlahor scored a sensational hat-trick inside six minutes to give Martin O’Neill’s Aston Villa a dream start to their Premier League campaign.
The England under-21 admitted this week he had been beefing up in the gym ahead of the new season in a bid to strengthen his position in the Villa line-up and in the hope that he could muscle in on a place in Fabio Capello’s England side.
The England boss had left Agbonlahor out of his squad for this week’s friendly against the Czech Republic, but the Villa striker gave the Italian a timely reminder of his ability by killing off City with three finishes of the highest order.
The Erdington-born star struck in the 68th, 73rd and 75th minutes to give Villa a winning start to the season after Mark Hughes’ side had just got back on level terms following an Elano penalty. John Carew had put Villa ahead just after half time.
City have been more than a fly in the ointment for Villa over the past few years. They had not lost in their five previous visits to Villa Park and had accumulated more points (40), achieved more wins (11) and scored more goals (34) in Premier League matches against Villa than any other club.
If that hoodoo wasn’t enough, Villa were looking to end a sequence of just one win in their last eight opening day fixtures, that coming in 2004 against Southampton at Villa Park.
The hosts certainly should have been leading by half time after creating several chances.
Gareth Barry, who was replaced as captain by Martin Laursen following his much publicised attempts to leave Villa Park for Liverpool during the summer, should have done better when Joe Hart could only tip away Nigel Reo-Coker’s teasing cross but Barry volleyed wide. He should also have done better minutes later when Stiliyan Petrov played him in on the right hand side of the area and he seemed caught in two minds whether to shoot or cross. The end result was easily taken by Hart.
Barry did well to combine with Ashley Young and then sent in a clever ball which found Agbonlahor free six yards out but just as the Villa striker was about to head home, City captain Micah Richards produced a superb, acrobatic intervention.
City only threatened on a couple of occasions and the closest they came was an Elano shot in the 30th minute which tested new Villa keeper Brad Friedel.
The breakthrough finally came two minutes into the second half courtesy of giant striker Carew, who had the simplest of headers at the back post after Ashley Young had sent over a trademark inviting cross. It is a simple yet effective formula. tricky little winger provides the ammunition for big striker to head home, but it undoubtedly works and will do so many times during the course of the campaign.
City tried to rally and Petrov fired into the side netting after mounting pressure from the visitors and in the 62nd minute they got a lifeline when hesitant defending allowed Michael Johnson to run into the box and when he went down under the weight of Luke Young’s innocuous challenge Phil Dowd pointed to the spot. Elano sent Friedel the wrong way from the penalty spot and the City jinx returned.
City continued to break menacingly but Villa kept going forward and regained the lead in the 69th minute when Ashley Young’s corner was helped back into the box by Davies and Agbonlahor volleyed home.
Agbonlahor got his second five minutes later when Ashley Young released Barry down the left and his exquisite cross was glanced home by the England under-21 international. The hat-trick was complete two minutes later when Barry sent Agbonlahor clear and he flicked the ball over the on-coming Hart.
Vedran Corluka pulled a goal back in the last minute but Villa were worthy winners, much to the delight of O’Neill.
“It was a brilliantly taken hat-trick,” O’Neill said. “When he got the first goal the confidence just went flooding through him and he took the other two magnificently. I thought the third goal was just class and I am delighted for him, and the team that we have won the game.”
Goals: Carew (47) 1-0; Elano (64) 1-1; Agbonlahor (68) 2-1, (73) 3-1; (75) 4-1; Corluka (90) 4-2.
ASTON VILLA (4-4-2) Freidel; Luke Young; Laursen; Davies; Shorey; Ashley Young; Petrov; Barry; Reo-Coker; Agbonlahor; Carew. Subs: Taylor; Harewood; Knight; Salifou; Routledge; Gardner; Osbourne.
MANCHESTER CITY: Hart; Corluka; Ben Haim; Richards; Garrido; Etuhu; Johnson; Fernandes (Ireland 81); Petrov; Elano; Evans (Sturridge 81). Subs: Schmeichel; Ball; Onuoha; Hamann; Caicedo.
Referee: Phil Dowd (Stoke-on-Trent)