Manchester City’s shortage of recognised strikers was glaringly exposed in a goalless draw away to bottom club Aston Villa on Sunday that saw them squander the chance to consolidate their position at the top of the Premier League.
Manuel Pellegrini lost the services of Wilfried Bony to a hamstring injury and then watched in frustration as City failed to make their second-half domination count in a match where Villa ended a dismal run of seven successive defeats.
City had to operate without a recognised frontman for more than an hour, although Raheem Sterling, Kevin de Bruyne and Fernando all wasted gilt-edged chances to wrap up all three points in the closing stages.
It meant that Frenchman Remi Garde claimed a valuable point in his first game as Villa manager to stop the rot which led to his appointment as the successor to Tim Sherwood, although a draw still left the Birmingham club at the foot of the table.
“It was a nice experience and a fantastic atmosphere,” Garde told he BBC. “It was a tough game. I can be very happy with my team today.
“The difference between the two teams before was huge,” the former Arsenal and France midfielder explained.
“Making sure we were well organised defensively was my priority.”
City were left ruing the missed chances, and the continued absence of Sergio Aguero, as they had to settle for a share of the spoils in a game they were expected to win comfortably.
“Of course we’re frustrated,” said City manager Pellegrini. “We deserved to win the game.
“They (Villa) had one shot in the whole game. I was happy with the way we played, especially in the second half but we were unlucky not to score.”
The return of former City defender Micah Richards was one of six changes made by Garde to Villa’s starting side from the team beaten at Tottenham Hotspur six days earlier.
As expected from a team under new management, Villa began the contest with great vigour and purpose, but the first real threat came when City’s Aleksandar Kolarov was released by Sterling on the overlap and his cross flashed across the face of goal.
Nevertheless, there was encouragement for the home fans at Villa Park in the way their side started, with Jordan Amavi getting forward at every opportunity, but Idrissa Gueye failed to trouble Joe Hart with a long-range shot after a burst from the centre of midfield.
Guzan – the Wall
City went close to breaking the deadlock on two occasions in quick succession as Kolarov saw his low shot pushed onto the post by Brad Guzan before Fernando lashed a close range effort over the bar from the resulting corner.
But just as Pellegrinia s side seemed to be building up a head of steam, they suffered the setback of losing Bony to injury as he pulled up clutching his hamstring
Following their reshuffle, City had a chance to catch Villa on the break, but although Yaya Toure’s instinctive pass sent Sterling bursting through the middle, the England winger stumbled inside the box at the crucial moment and subsequent protests he had been fouled by Ciaran Clark were ignored by the referee.
There was a let-off for Villa early in the second half when Guzan fumbled the greasy ball when Kolarov tried his luck from a free-kick, but, fortunately for the home side, they scrambled the ball away.
United States international Guzan then pulled off an astonishing point-blank save when Sterling rose to meet Jesus Navasa s cross with a firm header.
City were guilty of squandering another golden opportunity when de Bruyne was picked out by Navas’s low ball to edge of the six yard box, but with the goal gaping in front he somehow managed to miscue his effort wide of the target.
The Premier League leaders were left cursing missed chances again in injury time when Fernando’s close range header rattled the bar and former Villa midfielder Fabien Delph, booed by home fans throughout, rolled his shot agonisingly wide of Guzana s left-hand post.