Manchester City stepped up their bid to end their long wait for silverware by cruising into the FA Cup quarter-finals with a 3-0 win over Aston Villa today. First-half goals from Yaya Toure and Mario Balotelli set them on their way before David Silva wrapped up the fifth-round victory.
However, City who have gone 35-years without winning a trophy, were given a helping hand as Villa manager Gerard Houllier opted to name a second string side. The move backfired and his shadow squad were put to the sword as Manchester City set up a last-eight home tie with Championship (second division) giant-killers Reading.
Given Manchester City's congested fixture list, it was no surprise Roberto Mancini rotated his side in what was their seventh game in just a month. Houllier likewise left a string of regulars in reserve and the last thing his understudies would have wanted was to see Toure open the scoring just five minutes in.
The Ivory Coast midfielder scored from six-yards, swivelling to rifle the ball into the roof of the net after the ball had bounced off Villa defender Ciaran Clark following an Aleksandar Kolarov corner. It was the worst possible start for Villa, at a ground where they were comprehensively beaten 4-0 in December.
Villa are made of sterner stuff under Houllier, however, and the Frenchman, who inherited an injury-hit squad, has seen his side improve to avoid any lingering threat of relegation. They saw Gabriel Agbonlahor shoot wide before Barry Bannan forced Joe Hart into a comfortable save.
Yet it was the home side who were looking the more dangerous and they duly extended their lead via Balotelli's fine strike with 25 minutes on the clock. Toure turned provider with a long pass and the Italian striker, who scored a hat-trick when the sides last met here, stroked the ball home on the half-volley beyond Brad Friedel.
But Balotelli almost undid all that work as he illustrated what a frustrating figure he can be by handing the ball to Agbonlahor. The England striker fed Emile Heskey, who almost threw the Midlands side a lifeline but his low shot was turned away by Hart.
Balotelli spent the remainder of the half clutching his troublesome right knee as he hobbled on. His arrival after the break came as something of a surprise, but seeing Villa step up a gear after their lacklustre opening period was not. A series of corners threatened Hart's goal but the home side appeared to have weathered the storm.
Balotelli, though, continued to divide opinions. This time he was fortunate to escape with just a caution after elbowing Chris Herd before he was immediately substituted on the hour mark. Silva sealed the win when he collected Herd's weak header to strike home with 20 minutes remaining. Houllier then decided to bring on England pair Stewart Downing and Ashley Young, but the tie was already over.