City do things the hard way
Manchester City were again grateful for Sergio Aguero's goalscoring instincts, as he grabbed an injury-time winner against Villarreal.
Last Updated: 18/10/11 10:26pm
Manchester City continued to do things the hard way in their debut UEFA Champions League campaign and were again grateful for Sergio Aguero's goalscoring instincts, as the Argentine grabbed an injury-time winner against Villarreal.
Cani had given the visitors a shock fourth minute lead at the Etihad Stadium and City spent the majority of the first half huffing and puffing before equalising shortly before half-time through Carlos Marchena's own goal.
Adam Johnson was even replaced by Gareth Barry before the interval in an indication things were not going to plan for Roberto Mancini, who had already seen his side draw with Napoli before being completely outplayed by Bayern Munich.
The City boss was forced to throw on Aguero in the second half, with the Argentine having only started on the bench in a gradual return from a groin injury ahead of Sunday's crucial derby at Manchester United.
Aguero, in truth, struggled to make an impact and Villarreal had the better of the second half, but the former Atletico Madrid star's dramatically late winner displayed why City are able to leave the dissenting Carlos Tevez at home.
The win moves City to four points ahead of a trip to Spain on Matchday Four, while their Spanish opponents continue to sit bottom of Group A.
But the result could be overshadowed by potential Uefa punishment for City after objects were thrown at Villarreal players from the stands during set-pieces.
City recovered from the shock of conceding early to dominate first-half possession but, despite the constant probing of David Silva, lacked their usual Premier League swagger.
The manner of their equaliser was fortunate and the goal failed to provide the spark they needed until Aguero saved the day.
It had seemed the return of Silva, Samir Nasri and Edin Dzeko, all rested at the weekend, had failed to find the winning formula in Europe.
And after the well-documented problems with substitutions and Tevez in the loss to Bayern Munich last month, manager Mancini also appeared to upset another player by taking Johnson off late in the first half.
City had gone into the game as clear favourites but it was La Liga's 13th-placed side who made the perfect start.
The game had barely begun when Silva played Nigel de Jong into trouble outside his own area and Jonathan de Guzman nipped in to steal possession.
Former Manchester United striker Giuseppe Rossi, a constant menace, lashed a shot at goal that Joe Hart could only parry and Cani reacted quickly to poke home.
Villarreal were lifted by that first goal in this season's group stages and Joleon Lescott needed to break up another promising attack.
After that sloppy start, City finally began to find some life after Aleksandar Kolarov, scorer of the equaliser against Napoli earlier in the competition, fired wide from distance.
Kolarov then found space on the left to clip in a cross for Nasri on the edge of the box, but the Frenchman volleyed narrowly over.
Kolarov went for goal direct from a free-kick but goalkeeper Diego Lopez palmed his curling effort away.
With Silva influential, City looked to maintain the pressure, but, after a good spell, found Villarreal difficult to penetrate.
Nasri did find a way through after exchanging passes with Silva, however, fired a low cross straight through the area.
Yaya Toure pounced on a mistake to surge forward, but shot way off target and a Kolarov cross proved too strong for Pablo Zabaleta.
Mancini surprisingly made a change five minutes before the break by sending on Barry for Johnson, who was not injured and shook his head as he left the field.
Although the change itself made little difference to City's overall play, Barry was involved in the build-up as the hosts pulled level three minutes later.
Kolarov made another incisive run and his low cross took a slight deflection before a sliding Marchena diverted it into his own goal attempting to clear.
City almost snatched the lead before the break when Silva played in Dzeko, but Lopez reacted quickly to save.
City were almost caught napping at the restart as Rossi robbed Vincent Kompany and blasted a shot wide after a dangerous run.
The hosts responded as Silva spread the ball wide for Zabaleta and his cross dropped nicely for an onside Dzeko but the Bosnian failed to make clean contact and Lopez saved.
City thought they had claimed the lead after 54 minutes when Kolarov smashed in a shot off the underside of the bar, but the flag was raised for offside.
Villarreal gave City another scare just before the hour when former West Brom midfielder Borja Valero found space to shoot but missed the target.
Cristian Zapata also stretched City on the counter-attack, but did not trouble Hart.
With City looking leaden-footed, Mancini made a second substitution with Aguero replacing De Jong.
Rossi, who had caused City a number of problems with his pace, threatened again, but was booked on the edge of the area for diving after minimal contact with Kompany.
Kolarov got another chance from a free-kick, but, from a similar position to where he scored against Napoli, this time shot the wrong side of the post.
City fans had been handed out sheets of paper to form a mosaic prior to kick-off, but their frustration was evident when Valero was pelted with paper balls taking a corner late on.
Dzeko had a chance in the closing minutes but his frustrating evening only continued as he headed well wide.
Zabaleta had an even better opportunity but headed tamely at Lopez.
Just as time looked to be up, Zabaleta crossed and Aguero tapped in to spark jubilant scenes.