Manuel Pellegrini hailed the spirit of his Manchester City team after they snatched a late 3-2 Premier League win over Aston Villa.
The soon-to-be-deposed champions appeared to be cruising to victory after Sergio Aguero capitalised on an early error from Villa goalkeeper Brad Guzan and Aleksandar Kolarov scored a trademark free-kick midway through the second half.
But Carlos Sanchez followed Tom Cleverley in scoring his first goal for Villa to haul Tim Sherwood’s FA Cup finalists level with five minutes remaining.
A tight offside call went against Christian Benteke to deny Villa the chance of an improbable turnaround before substitute Fernandinho had the final word for City in the 89th minute.
The victory moves City up to second in the table, although Arsenal and Manchester United would go back above them if they beat champions-elect Chelsea and Everton respectively on Sunday.
Perhaps more significantly, Pellegrini’s team are nine points ahead of fifth-place Liverpool in the race for a UEFA Champions League spot and he is hopeful the battling qualities shown at the Etihad Stadium on Saturday can help to close the season with four victories.
“We have to play for another 12 points,” Pellegrini said. “It was important to win those three points and we will see tomorrow what happens with United and Arsenal.
“It is very important to continue with the spirit that we had today. It is not easy when you are winning 2-0 and they draw 2-2 to go again for the match.
“We did it and we scored the third goal. We made important mistakes in both set-pieces when they scored but, with this spirit, maybe another game we don’t lose.”
City could be without Yaya Toure for the run-in after Pellegrini confirmed that the Ivory Coast midfielder was substituted at half-time due to a hamstring injury that will be assessed next week.
Either side of Toure’s departure, the manager was perplexed by City’s unusual sloppiness in possession.
“We didn’t play well today,” he added. “I thought Aston Villa played well, especially with the possession of the ball.
“It was maybe one of our worst games in possession. We have so much possession against every team that today it was strange to see the important amount of passes we lost.”
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