Five talking points from Villa's spirited 3-2 defeat at the Etihad Stadium.
No holding back against the top four anymore
There’s little doubt that Paul Lambert’s Aston Villa would have folded at 2-0 down on the road, so it was more than encouraging to see Tim Sherwood’s men fight back in such resilient fashion to level the scores going into the closing stages.
While they might have left Manchester empty-handed, the visitors certainly made a good account of themselves and, with 55 per cent possession, became the first team in six-and-a-half years to see the majority of the ball at the Etihad Stadium.
A point was the least they deserved against top four opposition and, if they can produce a similar performance come May 30’s FA Cup final encounter with Arsenal – minus the defensive errors, then the Gunners could be in for a shock.
The goalkeeping battle just got even more interesting
Brad Guzan’s shot-stopping performances during his first two starting seasons were crucial to helping save Villa from the drop but this term has been a somewhat testing one for the US international.
A few questionable outings in recent months have led to increasing calls for Shay Given to be handed back his old starting job after impressing during the club’s successful FA Cup run, and those are sure to get louder following events at the Etihad.
A horrendous miskick allowed Sergio Aguero to open the scoring with less than three minutes on the clock, before the American custodian’s decision to rush out on a late corner contributed to Fernandinho’s gut-wrenching winner.
Tim Sherwood was quick to back his number one in his post-match interview but it will now be interesting to see whether he opts to hand Given a chance to impress for next weekend’s visit of Everton.
Cleverley needs to be back at Villa Park next season
Tom Cleverley has turned around his form in remarkable fashion since Sherwood’s arrival, with Saturday’s performance the latest in a string of starring outings.
The Manchester United-owned midfielder was flawless in possession and full of running throughout the 90 minutes, and even bagged his first goal since December 2013 to help bring Villa back into the match.
With his United contract up in the summer, Sherwood has made his desire known to bring the loanee back on a permanent deal and, based on his recent showings, that would be a wise move.
No slowing down for Grealish
Jack Grealish had earned rave reviews from his previous three consecutive starts and his fourth was no different, as the teenage attacker once again looked at home on the big stage.
His direct running, passing and movement gave the home side’s defence problems throughout, while a fine second-half free-kick from the left also led to Cleverley’s 68th-minute strike.
You would still like to see the Solihull-native start to take a few more chances for himself but the past few weeks have gone a long way towards proving just what a special prospect he is.
A tense run-in ahead
With four Premier League games remaining, defeat to City leaves Villa just two points above the drop zone, with Hull, Leicester and Sunderland all having one game in hand over them.
Sherwood’s side now face back-to-back home games against Everton and West Ham before a trip to Southampton, and those are fixtures which they will need to take points from in order to ensure that they are not playing for their safety come the final day visit of relegation rivals Burnley.