Had this game taken place a month ago, this is a performance that would have been most encouraging. Aston Villa hung with Manchester City until the end, with one of the few mistakes made all game being punished ruthlessly by Carlos Tevez to provide the difference. Villa didn't do much in the attacking end, but in a game where a draw would have been a welcome result that's not really the worst thing. And in every other phase, they were right there with the defending champions. But given Villa's current plight, it's tough to see the upside in any loss.
In the early going it was actually Villa that looked the more threatening side, and though City weathered an early storm and began to return fire they were far from dominant at any point. Just as it looked as though things would go to the half level at 0-0, but a shockingly bad giveaway from Ciaran Clark allowed Edin Dzeko to feed Tevez, who rounded the keeper and slotted home the game's only goal. It was a harsh way to concede, and ultimately to lose, but it's a prime example of the kind of fundamental error Villa cannot afford to make given their situation.
The second half was similarly nip-and-tuck with little in the way of drama, until a late flurry of activity gave what was largely a fairly dire contest a bit of life. It looked as though Villa might be able to salvage a point when Matika Nastasic brought down Christian Benteke in the box, but referee Mike Dean wasn't interested. That's somewhat befuddling, as replays showed what appeared to be a nailed-on penalty, but there's not much that can be done about such things in hindsight. That was as close as Villa would come the rest of the way. In a perfect summation of Aston Villa's season, a well-won corner just short of full time was put into the top of the net by Matthew Lowton, killing any remaining hope of a point.
If Aston Villa can play that well against teams such as Reading, QPR, Stoke, Fulham, Sunderland, Norwich, and Wigan, they should survive in (relative) comfort. But unfortunately, this side has made something of a habit of playing to the level of their competition. This season has had its moments of brightness, be it the 3-1 win over Liverpool at Anfield, the 3-3 draw against Everton at Goodison, or the 4-2 League Cup win over City at the Etihad. They've put up strong performances in losing efforts against United, Arsenal, and Spurs. But they've also had some shocking displays against sides the quality of which they'll be facing over the next few weeks. This team is talented enough to stay up, of that I have little doubt. But whether they can put together the kind of performances needed to do so is another matter entirely.