Super Mario inspires City to win

Given the chance to lead the line for a second straight game, the

21-year-old, a £24million signing from Inter Milan last

summer, thrived on the responsibility and his sumptuous first-half

overhead kick brought his side to life after a sterile opening.

With Villa’s resistance broken, Adam Johnson, Vincent Kompany and

James Milner added second-half goals and Owen Hargreaves came on

for his Premier League debut on a near-perfect afternoon for City,

who pulled two points clear of cross-city rivals United ahead of

next weekend’s Manchester derby. Stephen Warnock netted a

consolation for Villa. Balotelli’s goal was complemented by an

industrious performance all over the pitch, reminiscent of his

showing in the 4-0 win over Blackburn before the international

break, with the Italian finally starting to look a more mature

performer. Having been relegated to a bit-part role owing to the

form of City’s other strikers and his own on- and off-field

controversies, Balotelli is perhaps one of the few to benefit from

the ongoing saga surrounding Carlos Tevez – the Argentinian missing

again as his club continue to deal with his alleged refusal to play

against Bayern Munich. And with eight-goal Sergio Aguero injured

and Edin Dzeko, Samir Nasri and David Silva all on the bench as

Roberto Mancini made four changes, Balotelli had another chance to

impress and took it, as Villa lost their unbeaten start to the

season at the eighth hurdle. Alex McLeish’s men, who included

former City favourites Richard Dunne, Shay Given and Stephen

Ireland in a line-up showing two changes, arrived at the Etihad

Stadium without an away win this season but it did not show as they

made a confident opening. Gabriel Agbonlahor robbed Joleon Lescott

but failed to make the most of a one-on-one with Joe Hart and

Warnock failed with the follow-up as City struggled to settle. But

Balotelli then decided to wake them up, hitting tamely wide before

going closer when his 25-yard curler reared up in front of Given

and forced the Irishman to turn it behind. Balotelli’s frustrations

at his close shave had drawn some considerable goading from the

Villa fans housed behind Given’s goal, but he was soon able to

silence them. Johnson’s 28th-minute corner hit an unsuspecting

Micah Richards and fell perfectly for Balotelli, who produced a

razor-sharp bicycle kick to leave Given flat-footed and take his

tally of goals against Villa to five in three outings. City were

unable to score again before the break but did so two minutes after

it when Warnock slipped as he tracked Yaya Toure’s pass, leaving

Johnson with a one-on-one that he did not waste. It was Johnson’s

second goal in as many games and City thought they had a claim for

a penalty a minute later when Balotelli took a tumble while

navigating traffic in the area. Referee Anthony Taylor was unmoved,

but City were soon able to score a third without any help from the

officials as Kompany, making his 100th start for the club, rose to

nod in Johnson’s corner with 52 minutes gone. City’s afternoon was

slightly soured when Richards limped off just after the hour and,

while he was doing so, Villa pulled a goal back as Warnock stormed

on to Agbonlahor’s cross – taking advantage of Richards’ absence –

to score. It only provided momentary solace for Villa, though, who

fell three behind again with 20 minutes remaining. Nigel de Jong’s

long pass played in Johnson and, after some trickery from the

winger, the ball was moved on to Milner who found the top corner

from the edge of the box against his former club. Silva, on for

Toure, then went close after more impressive work from Balotelli,

before Hargreaves came on for his first taste of Premier League

action since an injury-halted seven minutes for Manchester United

last November, immediately launching himself into two tackles as if

to prove his fitness.