Mancini: City will fight to the end
Roberto Mancini is remaining defiant about Manchester City's chances of overtaking Manchester United at the top of the Premier League after cutting their lead to 12 points with victory over Aston Villa.
A Carlos Tevez goal at the end of the first half settled the game in City's favour, but with just 10 games left they are running out of time to catch their rivals.
However, Mancini was happy with the performance his side put in to grind out victory at Villa and called on them to keep fighting right to the end of the season.
"We did a good performance and it was difficult," he told Sky Sports. "For us it was important to stay 12 behind United, with 10 games left you never say never. Keep on winning and you never know, this is football.
"Last year nobody thought it was possible but 12 points in 10 games... If they lose four..."
Pablo Zabaleta, via Brad Guzan's fingertips, and Yaya Toure hit Villa's post either side of half-time and City were comfortable winners against opponents the manager nevertheless thinks will survive the drop.
"I believe Villa are a good team and they will stay up," he said. "They have young players and, if they can stay up, next year they can have a good season. With a young team, you can have a problem. But I like Benteke, I like N'Zogbia and I like Weimann."
Villa boss Paul Lambert was left regretting the costly error made by his stand-in captain Ciaran Clark, who was dispossessed by City substitute Edin Dzeko in the build-up to the goal.
Clark appealed for a foul after being left grounded by the striker but found no support in that direction from his manager.
"I wouldn't have minded if someone had put one away in the top corner but it was a mistake by us when there was only a minute to go in the half," Lambert said.
"Ciaran has been excellent and he will learn from it. He tried something he shouldn't have tried and won't make that sort of mistake again. He was probably feeling confident but, against the calibre of strikers you're playing against, you can be punished like that. You can't switch off for one moment.
"Knowing how young Ciaran is, I thought he responded brilliantly in the second half and I thought the whole team played really well."
Villa have lost their last two games, both by the odd goal against opposition from the recognised Premier League elite, and now face what could be a critical week and a half.
They visit Reading on Saturday and then face QPR - the weekend's big winners at the foot of the table – at Villa Park seven days later.
"Those two games are massive now," Lambert added. "If we play like that, we will certainly give teams a fight. If we keep playing like that, we will stay up."
Like City, Villa face an unwanted absence in midfield, with their man of the match Fabian Delph booked just before the end for the tenth time this season and now ruled out of the next two fixtures.
"He played really well and it's unfortunate to miss him now," Lambert said. "We will need somebody else to step up to the plate. His level of performance has been extremely high."
Skipper Ron Vlaar could be back after a calf injury for the Reading game.