Fernandinho claimed a dramatic 89th-minute winning goal for Manchester City to secure a 3-2 victory over Aston Villa on Saturday, a result which could have major ramifications at both ends of the Premier League.
It was the second goal in four minutes at Eastlands after Carlos Sanchez appeared to have earned FA Cup finalists Villa a priceless point when he was on hand to skilfully hook the ball into the goal from 12 yards after City goalkeeper Joe Hart had failed to deal with a Charles N’Zogbia corner.
But with normal time running out, Aleksandar Kolarov’s left-wing corner passed through a crowded Villa area and reached the unmarked Fernandinho, who took a controlling touch before scoring with an acrobatic half-volley.
— Seleção Brasileira (@BrazilStats) April 25, 2015
Sergio Aguero, with his 21st league goal of the season, and Kolarov had previously been on target for Manuel Pellegrini’s side although, after Tom Cleverley had pulled a goal back for Villa, the visitors looked well capable of escaping with at least a point.
Victory saw reigning champions City climb into second place, nine points behind Chelsea but having played two games more than Jose Mourinho’s leaders.
City were gifted the lead in the third minute following an extraordinary error by the United States goalkeeper Brad Guzan, who panicked in receiving a back-pass from Ron Vlaar as the home side pressed high up the field.
Guzan succeeded only in mis-hitting a square pass across the face of goal directly to Aguero, who was left with the routine task of tapping the ball into an open goal from six yards.
It was hardly a start in keeping with the recent form shown by Villa under manager Tim Sherwood that has left them with a genuine chance of avoiding relegation, along with a place in the FA Cup final following last week’s semi-final victory over Liverpool.
Guzan, who has surrendered his starting place to veteran deputy Shay Given in the FA Cup, then flapped embarrassingly at a Kolarov free-kick in the 16th minute with Fernando heading just wide of a gaping goal.
City, playing with a confidence that has been lacking for much of the year to date, also threatened with Yaya Toure volleying just wide from the edge of the area and Guzan smothering an Aguero shot.
But Villa responded impressively to a nervy start with Christian Benteke heading over from a Jack Grealish cross and the Belgium striker then being denied by the legs of Joe Hart after latching onto Vlaar’s deflected shot.
Toure, whose future at the Etihad has been the subject of much speculation during a disappointing title defence, was replaced at half-time, apparently because of injury, and Frank Lampard exited early in the second half as Pellegrini attempted to gain control of midfield.
It scarcely worked, although Aguero had strong claims for a penalty turned down, and had Fabian Delph’s 18-yard snapshot been a foot to the left after 55 minutes, Villa might have had an equaliser.
Finally, after 65 minutes, Villa’s discipline wavered with Carlos Sanchez upending Fernandinho, earning a caution in the process and presenting Kolarov with a free-kick 22 yards from goal.
Impressed with Villa again today & extremely unfortunate not to take something from game.Might even have been all 3 but for a lineman’s flag
— James Ducker (@DuckerTheTimes) April 25, 2015
The City left-back curled a brilliant shot, through a gap in the wall left by Leandro Bacuna and Kieran Richardson, and past Guzan’s desperate dive.
Villa’s response was swift and impressive, however, as they reduced arrears from a Grealish free-kick just two minutes later.
Eliaquim Mangala and goalkeeper Hart failed to communicate properly, with the defender heading to the edge of his area where, after Fernando and Milner failed to clear, Cleverley was on hand to lash an 18-yard shot into the goal.
In the frantic finale, Villa seemed about to claim a winner with the game tied as N’Zogbia and Christian Benteke broke upfield but the latter was flagged for offside with only Hart to beat – a decision that proved all the more significant given Fernandinho’s winner followed within seconds.
Burnley, Queens Park Rangers and Sunderland slipped closer to the relegation trapdoor in the Premier League on Saturday as Leicester City and Hull City recorded timely victories.
Bottom club Burnley lost 1-0 at home to Leicester in agonising circumstances, with Jamie Vardy notching a 60th-minute winner for the visitors just seconds after Burnley’s Matt Taylor had hit the post with a penalty.
Vardy poked the ball over the line after Michael Duff had turned a Marc Albrighton cross towards his own goal to give Leicester a fourth successive win, which took Nigel Pearson’s side out of the bottom three.
— Premier League (@premierleague) April 25, 2015
“The players have deserved the breaks they’ve got, through a lot of honesty, hard work and ability,” said Leicester manager Pearson.
“But if people think the hard work’s done, they’re in for a shock.”
Burnley are now five points adrift of safety having played a game more than many of the teams above them and QPR are just a point better off following a 0-0 draw at home to West Ham United.
Charlie Austin should have put QPR ahead from the penalty spot mid-way through the first half after James Collins was penalised for handball, but West Ham goalkeeper Adrian saved with his legs.
Good performance from the boys today. Created a lot of chances , vital saves by harps when needed. 5 more cup finals now. Gr8 support again
— Tom Huddlestone (@Huddz8) April 25, 2015
Sunderland slipped into the relegation places after a 1-1 draw at Stoke City, who equalised through a powerful Charlie Adam strike after Connor Wickham had given the visitors a first-minute lead.
Hull capitalised on their rivals’ slip-ups by ending a six-game winless run with a 2-0 victory at Crystal Palace, courtesy of a second-half brace from Senegalese striker Dame N’Doye.
Free-falling Newcastle United are also in danger of being sucked into the relegation scrap after losing 3-2 at home to Swansea City.
Ayoze Perez gave John Carver’s side a 20th-minute lead at St James’ Park, but Swansea hit back through Nelson Oliveira, Gylfi Sigurdsson and Jack Cork before Siem de Jong claimed a late consolation for the hosts.
— Ronald Koeman (@RonaldKoeman) April 25, 2015
Newcastle have now lost seven consecutive league games for the first time since 1977.
Meanwhile, Liverpool failed to make ground on the Champions League places after drawing 0-0 at West Bromwich Albion in captain Steven Gerrard’s 500th league game.
Liverpool winger Jordon Ibe came closest to breaking the deadlock with a shot that hit the crossbar after a one-two with Mario Balotelli.
It left Brendan Rodgers’s team six points below the top four in fifth place, but they remain in pole position in the Europa League qualifying race after Tottenham Hotspur drew 2-2 at Southampton.
Tottenham trail Liverpool on goal difference and remain a point above Southampton in sixth place.
— Garry Monk (@GarryMonk16) April 25, 2015
The teams finishing fifth and sixth will qualify for the Europa League, while victory for Arsenal over Aston Villa in the FA Cup final would also send the team finishing seventh into Europe’s second-tier competition.
Defending champions Manchester City can climb above Arsenal and Manchester United to second place if they win at home to Villa later on Saturday.
Arsenal host leaders Chelsea on Sunday, while United travel to Everton.
Injury hit Real Madrid prepare for vital game at Celta Vigo on Sunday.