Darren Bent marked his Aston Villa debut with a typical poacher's goal
By Phil McNulty
BBC Sport at Villa Park
Darren Bent demonstrated why Gerard Houllier was happy to make him Aston Villa's £24m record buy as he marked his debut with the crucial winner against Manchester City.
Bent concluded an acrimonious week in the aftermath of his departure from Sunderland in style when he turned in the early close-range finish that eased Villa's relegation fears and put a dent in Manchester City's hopes of applying pressure to the Premier League front-runners.
In what was a characteristic Bent display, he made only an occasional impact - but proved once again in front of England coach Fabio Capello that he is one of the most reliable marksmen in the domestic game.
And his strike was the highlight of a Villa performance that will have provided huge satisfaction for Houllier, who sees Bent as the symbol of his serious rebuilding of the squad he inherited from Martin O'Neill.
Bent won the £51m battle of the strikers with Manchester City's Edin Dzeko, the other big January transfer window purchase, although he showed enough in flashes to make Manchester City boss Roberto Mancini believe he will provide a return on his £27m investment.
Mancini, however, will be bitterly disappointed at City's failure to take anything against a Villa side they thrashed at Eastlands only a few weeks ago.
City only played on Villa's nerves late on, when Ciaran Clark deflected Nigel de Jong's shot on to a post and Dzeko headed inches wide at the far post from substitute Adam Johnson's cross.
Mancini's side only showed enough ambition when it was too late and by then battle lines were drawn as James Collins and former City captain Richard Dunne fought a magnificent rearguard action at the heart of Villa's defence.
Bent eased himself into the action for 18 minutes before making the decisive contribution Houllier hopes will become a trademark of his Aston Villa era. He was first to react when City keeper Joe Hart pushed Ashley Young's shot in his direction, turning home a finish from an acute angle as Villa Park celebrated the arrival of a new hero.
City's response was measured, a little too measured at times, but Villa keeper Brad Friedel needed to be alert to turn Vincent Kompany's header to safety and Gareth Barry was only inches away with a glancing header from Jerome Boateng's cross at the Holte End.
Houllier hails spirit on 'special' day
In an entertaining encounter Hart also needed to show secure handling to hold on to stinging drives from Young and Stewart Downing as half-time approached.
Little had been seen of Dzeko, but enough to suggest he will be a real force once he becomes accustomed to the requirements of the Premier League. He threatened Villa just after the interval with a twisting header from Aleksandar Kolarov's corner, but he failed to find the target.
City boss Mancini felt the need to make a positive change after 56 minutes when he sent on Johnson for Barry, who received a predictably hostile send-off from the Villa supporters who once idolised him.
Bent 'over the moon' with debut goal
It was Villa, however, who posted the next moment of danger with another long-range effort from Young, forcing Hart - who had been a mixed bag throughout - to dive low to his right to save as Houllier's side continued to perform in a most encouraging fashion.
City, predictably, subjected Villa to a sustained spell of pressure as the clock ticked down - and the home team hada double escape with eight minutes left. De Jong's shot was unwittingly deflected on to his own post by Clark and then Dzeko headed Johnson's cross wide at the far post when he should have restored equality.
It was the final scare for Villa as their supporters celebrated a crucial three points and a new idol in Bent, as referee Howard Webb blew the final whistle.
87:00 Effort from inside the six-yard box by Ashley Young goes wide right of the goal.
86:50 Marc Albrighton produces a cross.
85:07 Inswinging corner taken by Adam Johnson, Effort on goal by Aleksandar Kolarov from just inside the penalty area goes harmlessly
over the target.
84:42 Aleksandar Kolarov takes the chance to get an effort at goal. Carlos Cuellar gets a block in.
84:33 Adam Johnson produces a cross.
83:28 Headed effort from close range by Edin Dzeko goes wide left of the goal.
83:05 Shot by Nigel De Jong from 30 yards. Ciaran Clark gets a block in.
82:45 Corner taken left-footed by Adam Johnson to the near post, Ciaran Clark manages to make a clearance.
81:26 Centre by Marc Albrighton, clearance by Kolo Toure.
78:32 A cross is delivered by Adam Johnson, clearance by Stewart Downing.
77:51 Carlos Tevez produces a volleyed right-footed shot from 12 yards. James Collins gets a block in.
77:01 Stewart Downing takes a shot. Save by Joe Hart.
75:17 Adam Johnson takes a long range shot clearing the bar.
75:03 Corner taken left-footed by David Silva.
74:46 Shot by Edin Dzeko. Blocked by James Collins.
74:03 Aleksandar Kolarov has an effort at goal from long range that misses to the right of the target.
72:26 Foul by Gabriel Agbonlahor on Adam Johnson, free kick awarded. Direct free kick taken by Gnegneri Toure Yaya.
72:10 Foul by Darren Bent on Kolo Toure, free kick awarded. Kolo Toure takes the free kick.
71:14 Edin Dzeko produces a cross, James Collins makes a clearance.
68:50 Stewart Downing delivers the ball, clearance made by Vincent Kompany.
68:27 Foul by Aleksandar Kolarov on Marc Albrighton, free kick awarded. Stewart Downing restarts play with the free kick.
68:27 Booking Booking for Aleksandar Kolarov.
66:59 Carlos Cuellar produces a cross, clearance made by Vincent Kompany.
65:55 Ashley Young takes the inswinging corner, Jerome Boateng makes a clearance.
65:40 Ashley Young takes a shot. Save by Joe Hart.
64:24 Corner taken by Aleksandar Kolarov from the left by-line to the near post, James Collins makes a clearance.
64:12 A cross is delivered by Edin Dzeko, clearance by Richard Dunne.
63:57 Ashley Young delivers the ball, clearance made by Jerome Boateng.
62:13 Headed effort from deep inside the area by Edin Dzeko misses to the left of the goal.
60:46 Jerome Boateng has an effort at goal. Brad Friedel makes a fantastic save.
60:31 Shot by Carlos Tevez. Blocked by James Collins.
59:37 Effort from 25 yards by Edin Dzeko. Richard Dunne gets a block in.
58:16 Carlos Tevez challenges James Collins unfairly and gives away a free kick. Brad Friedel takes the direct free kick.
58:03 Gabriel Agbonlahor concedes a free kick for a foul on Jerome Boateng. Direct free kick taken by Jerome Boateng.
56:10 The referee blows for offside. Indirect free kick taken by Brad Friedel.
56:10 Substitution Gareth Barry leaves the field to be replaced by Adam Johnson.
53:05 Aleksandar Kolarov has a drilled shot. Blocked by Marc Albrighton.
52:55 The ball is crossed by Jerome Boateng, James Collins manages to make a clearance.
51:57 Darren Bent is flagged offside by the assistant referee. Vincent Kompany takes the indirect free kick.
50:48 Gareth Barry is penalised for handball and concedes a free kick. Richard Dunne takes the direct free kick.
49:20 Corner taken left-footed by Aleksandar Kolarov, Edin Dzeko produces a header from inside the area that goes over the crossbar.
49:01 Effort from 20 yards by Edin Dzeko. Stewart Downing gets a block in.
48:05 Effort from 18 yards by Edin Dzeko. Blocked by James Collins.
45:27 Carlos Tevez produces a left-footed shot from the edge of the box and misses to the left of the goal.
45:01 The referee gets the second half underway.
45:00+1:39 The ref blows to signal half-time.
45:00+0:30 Gareth Barry concedes a free kick for a foul on Stiliyan Petrov. Shot on goal comes in from Stewart Downing from the free
kick, save made by Joe Hart.
44:59 Ashley Young takes a shot. Save by Joe Hart.
44:51 Marc Albrighton produces a cross, clearance made by Kolo Toure.
44:40 The ball is sent over by Stewart Downing, clearance made by Gareth Barry.
41:47 Aleksandar Kolarov crosses the ball.
41:35 Gnegneri Toure Yaya takes a shot. Blocked by James Collins.
41:02 A cross is delivered by Gabriel Agbonlahor, clearance by Vincent Kompany.
39:49 Gareth Barry takes the outswinging corner, clearance made by Ashley Young.
39:26 Inswinging corner taken by David Silva from the right by-line, clearance by James Collins.
39:08 Aleksandar Kolarov takes a shot. Blocked by Richard Dunne.
38:32 Free kick awarded for an unfair challenge on Nigel De Jong by Marc Albrighton. Free kick taken by Gnegneri Toure Yaya.
38:26 Centre by Jerome Boateng, clearance by James Collins.
37:57 Aleksandar Kolarov takes a outswinging corner to the near post, Darren Bent makes a clearance.
36:33 Jerome Boateng produces a cross, Headed effort from inside the area by Gareth Barry misses to the left of the goal.
35:47 Corner taken left-footed by Aleksandar Kolarov to the near post, Shot by Kolo Toure from 12 yards. Blocked by James Collins.
35:42 The ball is sent over by Edin Dzeko, James Collins manages to make a clearance.
35:14 Centre by Marc Albrighton, Richard Dunne takes a shot. Save by Joe Hart.
34:52 Corner taken left-footed by Stewart Downing, clearance made by Jerome Boateng.
34:44 Gabriel Agbonlahor produces a cross, blocked by Jerome Boateng.
34:04 Carlos Tevez gives away a free kick for an unfair challenge on Ashley Young. Free kick taken by James Collins.
32:09 Aleksandar Kolarov produces a cross.
28:45 Foul by Vincent Kompany on Darren Bent, free kick awarded. Free kick taken by Stewart Downing.
28:00 The ball is swung over by Carlos Cuellar, save by Joe Hart.
26:17 Marc Albrighton crosses the ball.
25:37 Free kick awarded for a foul by Jerome Boateng on Ashley Young. Stewart Downing crosses the ball from the free kick left-footed
from left wing, Gareth Barry makes a clearance.
24:07 Ciaran Clark gives away a free kick for an unfair challenge on Edin Dzeko. Gnegneri Toure Yaya restarts play with the free
24:07 Booking The referee cautions Ciaran Clark for unsporting behaviour.
23:16 The ball is crossed by Marc Albrighton, clearance by Vincent Kompany.
21:43 Aleksandar Kolarov takes a outswinging corner from the left by-line to the near post, Kolo Toure takes a shot. James Collins
gets a block in.
21:11 Corner taken by Aleksandar Kolarov played to the near post, Vincent Kompany takes a shot. Brad Friedel makes a save.
21:06 Centre by Aleksandar Kolarov, James Collins makes a clearance.
19:29 Free kick awarded for an unfair challenge on Jerome Boateng by Gabriel Agbonlahor. Free kick taken by Jerome Boateng.
19:12 The assistant referee signals for offside against Edin Dzeko. Free kick taken by James Collins.
17:13 Assist by Ashley Young.
17:13 GOAL - Darren Bent:Aston Villa 1 - 0 Man City Darren Bent gets on the score sheet with a goal from close range to the bottom right corner of the goal. Aston Villa 1-0 Man
17:11 Ashley Young takes a shot. Save made by Joe Hart.
15:47 Inswinging corner taken by Aleksandar Kolarov from the right by-line.
15:41 The ball is delivered by Edin Dzeko, Richard Dunne manages to make a clearance.
13:47 Free kick awarded for an unfair challenge on Stewart Downing by Jerome Boateng. Free kick taken by Ciaran Clark.
12:45 Outswinging corner taken left-footed by Aleksandar Kolarov from the left by-line, Shot on goal by Kolo Toure from just inside
the area clears the crossbar.
12:05 Marc Albrighton concedes a free kick for a foul on Nigel De Jong. Kolo Toure restarts play with the free kick.
9:11 Ciaran Clark challenges Carlos Tevez unfairly and gives away a free kick. Aleksandar Kolarov crosses the ball in from the
7:42 Ashley Young crosses the ball, clearance made by Vincent Kompany.
7:20 Stiliyan Petrov delivers the ball, Vincent Kompany makes a clearance.
6:14 Edin Dzeko gives away a free kick for an unfair challenge on Stiliyan Petrov. Stewart Downing sends in a cross, James Collins
takes a shot. Save by Joe Hart.
4:10 Darren Bent challenges Gnegneri Toure Yaya unfairly and gives away a free kick. Vincent Kompany takes the free kick. Free
kick awarded for an unfair challenge on Ashley Young by Vincent Kompany. A cross is delivered by Ashley Young, Richard Dunne
produces a header from deep inside the six-yard box that clears the crossbar.
0:00 The game kicks-off.
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