MANCHESTER, England (AP) - Fernandinho volleyed in an 89th-minute winner as Manchester City survived throwing away a two-goal lead to beat Aston Villa 3-2 and cement a place in the English Premier League’s top four for the soon-to-be-deposed champions.
Sergio Aguero pounced on an early mistake by goalkeeper Brad Guzan to give City a third-minute lead, and Aleksandar Kolarov made it 2-0 in the 66th when he curled a free kick through the defensive wall.
Villa looked like salvaging a point after goals by Tom Cleverley and Carlos Sanchez - following misjudgments by goalie Joe Hart - pulled the relegation strugglers level by the 85th.
There was still time for a City corner to drift through a crowded penalty box to Fernandinho, who chested the ball down before finding the net from eight meters.
“It’s important to continue with the spirit like today,” City manager Manuel Pellegrini said. “It’s not easy to go from 2-0 to 2-2. With this spirit, maybe we don’t lose another game.”
City moved provisionally to second place - above Arsenal and Manchester United, who both play on Sunday - and more importantly was nine points clear of Liverpool and Tottenham in the chase for the Champions League qualification places.
Yet, it was another unconvincing display by City in a season that will end trophyless, leaving Pellegrini facing an uncertain future.
“It was one of our worst games in possession,” Pellegrini said. “It was strange to see the important number of passes we lost.”
Yaya Toure was replaced at halftime because of a hamstring injury, at the end of a week when doubts also emerged over the Ivory Coast international’s future at City.
Defensive or goalkeeping errors led to the first four goals at Etihad Stadium - and Guzan’s blunder was the worst.
He was dropped for Shay Given last weekend when Villa beat Liverpool at Wembley Stadium to reach the FA Cup final. Guzan came straight back into the team - he is a regular for Villa in the league, despite the pressure being applied by Given - and made a dreadful error with one of his first touches.
Fielding a back-pass, Guzan attempted a first-time pass with his left foot, only to mis-hit the ball. It dropped into the path of Aguero, who slotted the ball into an empty net from eight meters for his league-leading 21st goal of the campaign.
City scored at least four goals against Villa in their last four meetings at the Etihad, but the visitors’ response to going behind suggested this would not be another walkover.
Christian Benteke wasted a one-on-one chance by shooting straight at Hart in the 27th, while City’s defense struggled to handle Villa’s up-and-coming playmaker Jack Grealish in the final part of the first half.
Kolarov extended City’s lead, and Villa’s players again had only themselves to blame. The left back’s free kick attempt found a gap in the defensive wall between Leandro Bacuna and Kieran Richardson, and the ball crept inside the post despite the efforts of Guzan.
Villa pulled a goal back two minutes later when Cleverley - a former Manchester United player - drove home a shot after Eliaquim Mangala and then Fernando failed to clear the ball adequately from a Villa free kick. Hart initially come out to collect the cross and was backpedalling as Cleverley’s low effort flew past him.
Yet another poor result for Pellegrini looked on when Sanchez hooked in a neat finish after Hart’s weak punch from a corner, but Fernandinho’s late goal sealed City’s eighth straight home win over Villa.
Villa is only two points clear of the relegation zone despite an improvement under new manager Tim Sherwood.
“If we perform like that in the remaining games, we’ll be OK,” Sherwood said.
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