City on a high as Pearce builds on unbeaten start

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The Independent Online

The former Manchester City favourite Gary Owen is convinced the Blues' win over Sunderland proves that the new manager, Stuart Pearce, has changed the mentality of the club.

City's 2-1 victory at the Stadium of Light on Tuesday night took them to the Premiership summit for the first time in two years and extended their unbeaten run under Pearce to 11 matches, their best effort since 1977.

While no one in the Blue camp is getting carried away just yet, victory over Portsmouth at Eastlands on Saturday will virtually guarantee a top-two slot heading into the international break - and the first Manchester derby of the campaign on 10 September.

But for Owen, part of the side which finished second under Tony Book almost three decades ago, it was the win on Wearside which showed just how much Pearce has transformed the City mind-set.

"If you go back through the years, if City ever came up against a side who had not won for a long period of time - or a striker who had not scored for ages - you could guarantee they would be the club to break the sequence," said the former England international.

"Sunderland were in that position on Tuesday, and yet we won. That says a lot.

"Stuart Pearce earned a lot of praise for the work he did last season, and even the most ardent City fan would have struggled to believe we would get to within one kick of Europe.

"In a sense, that was the easy bit. Stuart has now carried it on through an entire pre-season and into the new campaign - while losing his best player in the process.

"I know the fixtures could have been a lot tougher, but the progress we have made in a short space of time is astonishing.

"It will only take one more positive result on Saturday to make sure we go to Old Trafford in the top two or three - and it is a long time since I can remember that happening."

Pearce's achievements since succeeding Kevin Keegan last March are even more remarkable, given the difficulty he has had bringing in new faces.

The departures of Steve McManaman, Paul Bosvelt and Jon Macken meant the City squad was short on numbers even before Shaun Wright-Phillips' £21m departure for Chelsea.

The strikers Andy Cole and Darius Vassell, who scored for the first time since his £2m move from Aston Villa on Tuesday, are the only additions Pearce has been able to make - although the former England captain will continue to search for more purchases until the transfer window closes on 31 August.

Few would predict City will finish the campaign anywhere near their current position, although Pearce's stated target of a Uefa Cup berth - which they would have snatched last season had it not been for Robbie Fowler's injury-time penalty miss in the final game against Middlesbrough - is clearly a realistic target.

But amid the euphoria, Owen has offered a note of caution - casting his mind back a couple of years for evidence of how quickly the side could unravel.

"Two years ago we played Leicester at home, knowing a win would take us into an international break in fourth position," he said.

"Unfortunately we lost 3-0, were immediately knocked out of the Uefa Cup by Groclin, then got beaten by Tottenham in the League Cup and eventually went on a massive run of games without a win which nearly landed us in the relegation zone.

"I don't expect a similar fall again - but it does show what can happen.

"The squad is small, and at the moment we are relying on kids if we get any injuries or suspensions - which would be a worry over a long period.

"I am sure Stuart realises this and is working to strengthen his squad. I hope he will be successful, because the job he has done so far has been beyond anyone's wildest dreams."

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