Manchester City go top after a 2-0 victory over Aston Villa at the Etihad Stadium as Dean Smith sees red in VAR controversy.
Two late goals from Bernardo Silva and Ilkay Gundogan gave City all three points as Villa were once again left frustrated with technology.
After their last two Premier League games against Tottenham and Everton were postponed following a Covid outbreak which saw the training ground closed, the Midlands side finally returned to action with another trip to Manchester.
City almost struck first inside the opening five minutes when Silva found himself unmarked off the back of a well worked corner routine. The Portuguese couldn’t fire his side into the lead and was denied by a fantastic save from the leg of Emiliano Martinez.
The opening stages of the game saw City dominate possession although Villa were presented chances on the counter which was the result of their first attempt half an hour in. A move down the left created space for Bertrand Traore to get a shot away, however, his left footed effort caused no danger for Ederson.
The hosts were looking dangerous in the channels with Phil Foden highly involved each time. An attack down the left saw the ball pulled back to Kevin De Bruyne 18 yards out, although his shot was blocked by Tyrone Mings.
Ross Barkley returned to the starting 11 for the first time since he was forced off against Brighton back in November and the loanee was the first to test the City shot stopper. Tidy work inside the box from Jack Grealish set up Barkley whose curling effort forced the Brazilian into a save.
Foden gave Villa a late scare at the end of the half after De Bruyne found the youngster back post, however Cash was well positioned to prevent serious harm being done.
Traore almost gave Villa the dream start to the half when he went close. Martinez claimed the ball from a corner before quickly releasing the Burkina Faso international whose touch was exquisite to get past De Bruyne, and he continued inside before curling a shot that was saved by Ederson to his left.
Minutes later the home side almost found themselves in front with only the crossbar denying Joao Cancelo. An outside of the foot pass from De Bruyne was latched onto by the right back who cut inside and fired an effort which rebounded off the top of the bar.
Villa were continuing to defend well and were withholding the City pressure. Once again a chance was created from a Foden pullback, this time Gundogan couldn’t convert for the second game running, instead bobbling his wide.
Pep Guardiola’s side began to show frustration as time went on and no breakthrough had been found. His side almost fell behind through former City player, Douglas Luiz who fizzed a volley at goal, needing Ederson to parry away.
The game was unfolding into an end to end contest with Martinez called into action to save well from a near post header. From the rebound the ball was flicked into the path of Gundogan who looked certain to score, however, somehow the ball spun through his legs allowing Villa to clear.
With 15 minutes to go it was unclear which side would break the deadlock as chances were plentiful at both ends. Ollie Watkins was fed in on the left and his square ball looked set to be tapped in by substitute Jacob Ramsey until a diverting touch from the sliding Ruben Dias turned the ball behind for a corner.
The breakthrough came 10 minutes from the end with Silva firing City ahead despite Villa’s protests. Rodri dispossessed Mings after coming back from an offside position before setting up the Portuguese international who thrashed the ball past Martinez with his left foot.
Despite a VAR check the goal was awarded and Jon Moss proceeded to show Smith two yellow cards for his arguing, resulting in the Villa manager being sent off.
The goal deflated the visitors who had put in a performance worthy of a point, however in football that’s not always the case. The game was sealed with a minute of normal time remaining from the penalty spot when Cash was penalised for handball.
Gundogan stepped up and smashed the ball down the middle past a diving Martinez to send City top of the league for the next couple of hours at least.