Belfast Telegraph

Manchester City crush Villans and eye semi spot

Manchester City 3 Aston Villa 0: Manchester City are just a home win over Reading away from their first FA Cup semi-final since 1981 after a thumping victory over Aston Villa.

Gerard Houllier must bear the brunt of the Villa fans' ire after making eight changes to his latest Premier League starting line-up for a game against talented but tired opponents, with lower-league opposition the prize for victory.

None of this will bother City fans, who can once again think about ending 35 years without a trophy thanks to a fourth-minute opener from Yaya Toure and splendid efforts from Mario Balotelli and David Silva.

Houllier made eight changes and left Ashley Young, Stewart Downing and Marc Albrighton on the bench, offering City a glimmer of hope their talent did not require.

Villa were unfortunate in the sense Patrick Vieira's fourth-minute header struck Ciaran Clark after Aleksandar Kolarov had swung in a corner. The bounce fell perfectly for Toure, who duly smashed home from three yards.

Villa did rally, with Gabriel Agbonlahor going close, but suddenly the energy that appeared sapped from City legs at the weekend returned.

Balotelli could not exactly be described as enthusiastic. Economy of effort seems to be the Italian's mantra. However, the 20-year-old is a supreme talent and his superb reading of Toure's through-ball allowed him to streak clear of the Villa defence after 25 minutes.

Confidence is not a problem for the former Inter Milan star either, judging by the nonchalant manner in which he lifted a shot into the roof of the net with Brad Friedel powerless to stop it.

It was the striker's 10th goal in 18 eventful games for the Blues.

In the second half Clark made the fatal mistake of nodding Pablo Zabaleta's cross into the path of Silva, the result, a blistering shot into the bottom corner, was entirely predictable.

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