Belfast Telegraph

Balotelli smiles at City hat-trick

Mario Balotelli's first Manchester City hat-trick sent the Blues top of the Barclays Premier League after a 4-0 win over Aston Villa.

The Italian sent Brad Friedel the wrong way with two penalties and also netted a first-half tap-in after David Silva's shot had been palmed away.

Joleon Lescott also found the net with a near-post header against a wretched Villa outfit, who look increasingly as though they will be dragged into an unexpected relegation fight.

Eric Lichaj blatantly pulled down Balotelli as he charged onto Silva's seventh-minute through-ball but escaped a red card. The penalty proved sufficient, which Balotelli finished nervelessly, walking up to the ball before sending Brad Friedel the wrong way.

City doubled their advantage in the 13th minute when Lescott leapt to reach Adam Johnson's corner at the near-post, glancing it to the far, where Barry Bannan headed clear, although not after the assistant referee signalled that the ball had crossed the line.

Balotelli's second was again created by Silva. After exchanging passes with Yaya Toure inside the Villa box, Silva cut inside a couple of weak challenges before aiming a low-curling shot for the far post.

Friedel did get a hand to the ball but could only push it straight to Balotelli, who tapped home, then raced to acknowledge Silva.

Had deflections from goalbound shots by Toure and Silva ended up in the net, Villa would have been staring at utter humiliation.

With 55 minutes on the clock Johnson was sent tumbling inside the area by Marc Albrighton and Balotelli hungrily grabbed the ball once more.

If anything, the second walk-up was even more leisurely than the first. Too slow indeed for Friedel not to commit himself, and once the American reached the point of no return Balotelli made him look silly by stroking into the other corner.

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