Manchester City starlet Kelechi Iheanacho hit a hat-trick as his side crushed Aston Villa 4-0 on Saturday in the FA Cup fourth round, with Raheem Sterling also on target.
It was only Iheanacho’s fifth start of the season, but the 19-year-old Nigerian has now found the back of the net eight times, vindicating manager Manuel Pellegrini’s decision to leave Sergio Aguero on the bench.
City’s win kept them in contention for glory on four fronts, with Pellegrini’s side three points below leaders Leicester City in the Premier League and through to the Champions League last 16 and League Cup final.
Pellegrini also put David Silva on the bench, while Yaya Toure was left out of the match-day squad altogether, as both managers rested players with vital Premier League matches coming up.
But Villa manager Remi Garde quickly came to regret the wholesale changes he made in the heart of his defence, where Micah Richards and Ciaran Clark replaced Jores Okore and Joleon Lescott.
It was a decision that may have led to the first goal after just four minutes as Villa’s marking was found wanting at a corner.
Inevitably Fabian Delph, who was booed on his return to Villa Park, was involved in the goal, winning the corner and then taking the set-piece himself.
His kick was flicked on by Bacary Sagna and met with a powerful Fernando header at the far post.
Villa goalkeeper Brad Guzan could not hold the ball and Iheanacho was on hand to hook in for the opening goal.
Three minutes later the goalscorer almost turned provider after he was released down the left flank.
He whipped a perfect ball across for Jesus Navas, who could only fire the ball straight at Guzan.
Iheanacho then doubled the visitors’ lead from the penalty spot after Leandro Bacuna was penalised for nudging Sterling in the back.
The challenge looked innocuous enough, but Sterling went sprawling to the floor and referee Michael Jones pointed to the spot despite Villa’s protests.
The young striker showed tremendous confidence as he coolly sent Guzan the wrong way and passed the ball into the net with his left foot.
Tempers flared in the wake of the penalty decision, with Sterling winding up a frustrated Bacuna. The Villa full-back unwisely put his finger in the City forward’s face and both men received yellow cards.
At the other end, Villa were finding chances hard to come by despite dominating possession for long periods. It took until the 43rd minute for the home side to find the target, but Clark’s header lacked power.
A minute later Idrissa Gueye tried his luck from range and City goalkeeper Willy Caballero was forced to make a smothering save.
Garde brought Okore on at half-time, sacrificing Ashley Westwood and pushing Bacuna into midfield as the Villa manager searched for some cutting edge in attack.
However, it was City who remained the more threatening side. Guzan had to get down smartly and make a good save after Sterling arrived at full speed to meet Fernandinho’s right-wing cross.
Villa came close to pulling one back after Nicolas Otamendi clipped Jordan Ayew just outside the box. Spanish forward Carles Gil curled the free-kick in and Caballero was at full stretch to keep it out.
With Villa, last season’s beaten finalists, pushing for a goal that would give them some hope, they left themselves exposed at the back and the tie was soon over.
Gueye hit a terrible back-pass that found Iheanacho in acres of space and he made no mistake as he calmly slotted the ball past Guzan for his third of the match.
Two minutes later Sterling made it four, completing Villa’s misery, as he stabbed home from close range after Guzan had saved Fernandinho’s initial effort.