AFTER the week City have had last night was always going to be about Cash.
The Etihad giants were slammed for being part of the “Dirty Dozen” who signed up for the megabucks European Super League.
But back on the pitch they were grateful to Matty Cash whose stupid dismissal cost Aston Villa dear – and maybe Manchester United too.
Dean Smith’s men looked set to have a real go at the 10-man league leaders who were rocked by the sending off of John Stones before half-time.
Yet Cash went and blew it for them – and allowed City to make another break-away, this time by going 11 points clear at the top of the table.
They still have work to do to secure the title – but for the last six months Pep Guardiola’s men have been in a league of their own.
And who needs the Super League anyway?
Here was a timely advert for why the Premier League is so good – a night full of drama, tension, quality and controversy.
Amid their Champions League triumph and all the talk of new competitions, many might have missed a minor wobble by City.
They lost two of their last three matches before this – including the FA Cup semi final at Wembley on Saturday.
And with nearest rivals United winning all their games in hand, a gap that had once been 17 points had shrunk to eight.
That means Pep Guardiola’s still needed 11 points from their final six matches to be sure of a third title in five years.
Since Villa last played 11 days ago, City have had two gruelling matches and it showed in a stunning start to the match.
Stones failed to deal with a long punt forward allowing new England team-mate Ollie Watkins to get in behind.
He squared it for John McGinn who swept the ball past the outstretched arm of Ederson and Villa had the lead after just 20 seconds.
It was the second fastest goal ever conceded by City in this competiton – and the second quickest scored by Villa, beaten only by Dwight Yorke 26 years ago.
An extraordinary start – and a goal that would have been celebrated enthusiastically by the red half of Manchester.
They still have nightmares about their capitulation when City on their first Premier League crown nine years ago – thanks to Sergio Aguero’s late goal.
Back in 2012 Alex Ferguson’s men had an eight point lead with six matches to go.
Exactly the same gap as City had going into this one in fact. What a way to get revenge that would be.
It couldn’t happen again though, surely?
City set about trying to ensure it won’t and had the home side pegged back in their own half.
Emi Martinez had to make a smart save from a low shot by Riyad Mahrez as the visitors began to turn the screw.
And midway through the first half – although it must have seemed a lot later to Villa – City equalised with an outstanding team goal.
Ederson started it with one of those inch perfect long balls he sometimes pulls out and Phil Foden worked it wide to Mahrez.
Bernardo Silva overlapped and pulled back for Foden to finish emphatically from 12 yards.
The England youngster has now been directly involved in 23 goals for City this season – 14 goals and nine assists. Only Kevin de Bruyne has more for the leaders.
The question now was whether Villa could hang on until half-time – and the answer was no.
Bernardo was again the creator – standing up a delightful cross from the right and Rodri got in ahead of Martinez to nod home.
It looked like game over – but just four minutes later a fascinating game took another twist.
Stones went in high on Jacob Ramsey over near the touchline and missed the ball – connecting with the youngster instead.
Ref Peter Bankes gave a yellow card but was advised to go to his monitor and upgraded it to a red.
Stones has had an outstanding season but this was a night he will want to forget – and in front of England boss Gareth Southgate too.
He now misses the Carabao Cup final against Tottenham at Wembley on Sunday.
Guardiola was furious and had some words with the official at the break. But what a test for his team now.
At half-time he threw on Aymeric Laporte for Gabriel Jesus while Dean Smith introduced another forward in Keinan Davis.
The signs were that Villa would throw everything at it – yet before they had chance to make the extra man count, Cash went and blew it for them.
Two yellow cards within five minutes of each other – both for cynical fouls on livewire Foden and it was 10 v 10.
Leeds had skipper Liam Cooper dismissed when they shocked City at the Etihad 10 days ago – but it never really looked like it would happen again.
City were in control and took another huge step towards a third title in four years.
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