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A HART OF GOLD; ASTON VILLA 0 MANCHESTER CITY 1 FROM VILLA PARK Lescott scored, Silva is a genius.. but superman Joe is the one who keeps Blues' fairy tale dreams alive.

Byline: MIKE WALTERS

ANOTHER step closer to the fairy tale - and Joe Hart was Manchester City's own 'Hands' Christian Andersen.

For almost 90 minutes, England's No.1 could have stretched a hammock between his goalposts and watched the banal scuffling from a safe distance.

Villa had been so allergic to risk that they felt homesick crossing the halfway line or collecting the milk off their doorstep.

Pacifism is a worthy virtue, but when Villa stewards have to work harder to catch a poorly-endowed streaker than City's defenders were extended to keep the feeble home attack at bay, it is a measure of Hart's comfort zone.

But 30 seconds into stoppage time, when duty called, the City keeper's brilliant one-handed save denied Darren Bent an undeserved equaliser.

And as Roberto Mancini's men headed for Spaghetti Junction with their two-point cushion over United restored, Hart's reflexes were the toast of the Blue Moon tendency as much as Joleon Lescott's 63rd-minute winner.

Surprisingly, Mancini claimed Hart was not yet ready to take his place among the world's elite The Italian said: "He is still young and he has improved a lot in the last few years, but he still needs to do more to become one of the best keepers in the world." Bobby Manc is entitled to his insularity, but Hart was ultimately the difference broad daylight and a cigarette paper separating the leaders from Manchester United at the Premier League summit.

Everyone shook hands before kick-off, which was nice. And on a weekend when apologies were the order of the day, the first 45 minutes were an apology for entertainment.

Yet it was only a matter of time before Villa's lack of enterprise caught up with them, and when City's inevitable breakthrough arrived after 63 minutes, it only added insult to injury that it was from a set-piece conceived in claret and blue.

Former Villa winger James Milner's left-wing corner was nodded back across the six-yard box by former Villa skipper Gareth Barry, and Lescott - who supported, you guessed it, Villa as a kid - plundered his third goal of the season with a predatory flourish.

Only in the last five minutes, when Charles N'Zogbia replaced that well-known right-winger, Emile Heskey, did Villa send in the cavalry, but it was too little, too late. Carlos Cuellar should have equalised two minutes from the end, but sent his free header over the top.

And when Hart was finally called into serious action he followed up his one-handed save to thwart Bent by wiping out former City favourite Richard Dunne in an injurybetween time aerial collision. Dunne could be out for two months with a suspected dislocated shoulder, while City - for whom Barry was outstanding - are at home in four of their next six League games, against Blackburn, Bolton, Swansea, Chelsea, Stoke and Sunderland.

They will never have a better opportunity to win the title, although Barry cautioned: "United have players who know what it's like to win the championship and a manager who knows what it's all about.

"But we have experienced players too, and have got to back ourselves to finish the job at the business end of the season."

One last thing: TV viewers, including Wayne Rooney, complained of a colour clash between Villa's darker shade of claret and City's midnight blue away strip, thus proving that you don't have to be stupid to work for the Premier League... just colour blind.

ASTON VILLA: Given 6, Cuellar 7, Dunne 7 (Baker 90), Collins 7, Hutton 5, Albrighton 6 (Ireland 78), Petrov 6, Gardner 6, Keane 5, Heskey 5 (N'Zogbia 68, 5), Bent 5. MANCHESTER CITY: Hart 6, Zabaleta 7, Kompany 7, Lescott 8, Kolarov 6, De Jong 6, Barry 8, Milner 7, Silva 7 (Richards 90), Johnson 5 (Nasri 85), Aguero 6 (Dzeko 89).

REF: Michael Oliver ATT: 35,132

CAPTION(S):

SAFE HANDS Joe Hart shows remarkable reflexes to block Darren Bent's close-range effort at Villa Park KEEPING CITY ON TOP Brave Hart punches clear under pressure LES IS MORE Joleon Lescott swivels to fire past Villa No.1 Shay Given LESCOTT HAS GOT IT LICKED City hero Lescott celebrates his winner
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Feb 13, 2012
Words:692
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