Aston Villa vs Manchester City: F.A. Cup 4th Round
Aston Villa's hopes of reaching the F.A. Cup final for the second time in two seasons remain very much alive after The Villains came from behind to knock a young Manchester City out of the tournament.
Manuel Pellegrini had fielded an inexperienced side against Hull City in the previous round where a goal from 19-year-old Frenchman Oliver Ntcham scraped them through to the tie at Villa Park, but his decision came back to bite him this time around as Villa capitalized on the young Citizens weaknesses to earn a place in the 5th round.
Aston Villa XI vs Manchester City
(4-2-3-1)Guzan (C); Hutton, Okore, Senderos, Clark; Westwood, Delph, Valencia (45), Gil, Grealish (45); Benteke.
Subs: Bunn, Baker, Gueye, Agbonlahor (45), Bacuna, Sinclair (45), Helenius.
Manchester City XI vs Aston Villa
(4-4-2)Caballero; Sagna, Kompany (C), Mangala (76), Clichy; Nasri, Fernando (76), Zuculini, Zabaleta; Ambrose, Ünal (67).
Subs: Hart, Denayer, Ntcham (76), Dzeko (67), Dilrosun, Nwakali, Demichelis (76).
City kicked off proceedings on a sunny day at Villa Park and took the opportunity to field some of their younger players in the match against Tim Sherwood's squad, who had beaten League One side Crewe Alexandra to reach this stage of the competition. Sherwood also opted to start 19-year-old Irishman Jack Grealish who had been featuring regularly for the Villa side in the league prior to the game.
The match started quietly but just before the half hour mark it looked as though Manuel Pellegrini's decision to start a young lineup had paid off when Samir Nasri's cross into the Villa area resulted in a goalmouth scramble. Enes Ünal, 17, eventually forced Danish defender Jores Okore into scoring an own goal as the pressure from the young Turk was too much for the former Nordsjælland centre back to handle.
Okore went some way to redeeming his mistake minutes later when he superbly blocked Pablo Zabaleta's powerful shot at Brad Guzan's goal with his outstretched leg. The half time whistle blew with City arguably the much better side.
Sherwood decided to bring former City winger Scott Sinclair on in place of the young Grealish at half time - the second time he had played against his old team since making his move to Villa permanent in the summer. Villa captain Gabby Agbonlahor also came on in place of loanee Antonio Valencia.
It was Fabian Delph who made the headlines for his second half display however. Villa equalized after 69 minutes when Ashley Westwood's free-kick found Delph. The central midfielder controlled it well before playing a perfect pass to the former City man Sinclair, who drilled the ball low and across goal to find the bottom corner of Willy Caballero's net.
Delph also had a part to play in Aston Villa's winner, winning the ball back from Zabaleta and knocking it forward to Carles Gil. Gil found Sinclair with a short pass and he played a ball through to Benteke just inside the area. The big Belgian forward poked a ball out wide to Sinclair's fellow substitute Gabby Agbonlahor and the pacey captain found the top corner of the City net to secure Villa's place in the 5th round.
Aston Villa's American international goalkeeper Brad Guzan reserved some special praise for both Man of the Match Fabian Delph and for manager Tim Sherwood's tactical alterations at half time.
"What a win!" Guzan exclaimed in a pitch side interview immediately after the game. "The whole squad just looked brilliant after the half time break. Fabian is made up to have helped the team into the next round. Brilliant performance all round from everyone but Fabian really upped his game after the interval and credit has to go to him for that. He was an absolute work horse.
Tim also deserves a lot of credit. Really, it's his decisions that have won us the game. If he hadn't brought Scott and Gabby on when he did, would we have won? I'm not sure. He really got everyone motivated as well at half time. He really believes in this team and we're all really grateful for his faith in us."
Aston Villa will face Newcastle United at St James' Park in the next round of the F.A. Cup.