Late rally cannot hide City's title jitters

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

Manchester City 3 Sunderland 3: Mancini critical of Balotelli after poor display and argument with Kolarov. Now neighbours United poised to take advantage of another stuttering performance

the etihad stadium

The grand dreams have not left the Etihad Stadium but after what he called a "crazy emotional game", Roberto Mancini conceded it would be hard for Manchester City to win the Premier League title.

That could be an understatement. By the time they kick off at Arsenal next Sunday, Manchester United might be eight points clear and Mancini would have seven matches to pull that back. It is hard to imagine a man of Sir Alex Ferguson's inherent ruthlessness screwing up that equation.

The Manchester United manager had taken his squad to St Andrews for a golfing break. He had been on a golf course, in Cheshire, when the news was relayed to him that Manchester United had won their first Premier League title. Nineteen years on, it must have seemed that his 13th was very close.

Mancini had expressed bewilderment at the way Manchester City had played most of the match. His captain, Vincent Kompany, remarked afterwards: "I can guarantee it has nothing to do with nerves," although it looked strangely like it.

The fact that Mario Balotelli had scored twice and triggered the frantic finish that might improbably have seen City snatch victory did not disguise the anger he felt for a centre-forward he admits he no longer trusts. And if Mancini cannot trust Balotelli, nobody can.

First, he argued on the pitch with Aleksandar Kolarov over who should take a free-kick, which ended with Kompany leading the protagonists away. When he sat slumped on the turf, the minutes dripping away, the stadium screamed at him to get up.

"Mario didn't play well in a game like this," said Mancini. "A striker should be the difference and not just for the last two or three minutes. In that first half a player like Mario or [Edin] Dzeko should have been able to score two or three goals. I thought about taking him off after five minutes but we only had Carlos Tevez on the bench."

Afterwards Mancini admitted that the "stupid" foot injury sustained by Sergio Aguero had been exacerbated by a pain-killing spray, thus apparently confirming reports that the striker's skin had reacted badly to treatment after he received a knock in the recent win over Chelsea.

Tevez did come on, for David Silva, who like so many of Manchester City's players has looked weary for weeks. But it was Balotelli who ignited a game that seemed hopelessly lost with a fabulous shot that curled beyond Simon Mignolet and in by the far post. A minute later, a low drive by Kolarov drew City improbably level.

The fact that it was Sunderland who derailed them only emphasises Ferguson's adage that you can never predict where the shocks will come. Tuesday night's defeat by Everton in the FA Cup effectively ended their season. In 1968, Sunderland gave City their last championship by winning the final game of the season at Old Trafford. They had never so much as picked up a point at Eastlands in any one of their seven previous visits. Given City's home form, this was an irresistible force meeting a very moveable object.

The moveable object ought to have won easily. They were inspired by Stéphane Sessègnon, who Martin O'Neill fears might leave Wearside because he has been unable to adjust to life without his family, who are still in Paris. On the pitch he appears entirely comfortable and was involved in all three of Sunderland's goals.

For the first, he took a ball from Phil Bardsley and picked out Sebastian Larsson, whose shot was placed surgically beyond Joe Hart.

To support those who argue that Manchester City have been on the brink for some time, this was the fifth successive match in which their opponents had scored first.

Sessègnon continued to dazzle. It was his cross that Bendtner rose to head home just before the interval with O'Neill remarking wryly that it justified the striker's "much vaunted opinion about himself", and it was his pass that launched what looked like the killer goal.

City were already badly stretched with Micah Richards, who had taken a battering in the first half, replaced at the interval. Bendtner had time and space to deliver a low cross that Larsson drove home. City looked ruined and bereft of ideas and fight.

In the middle of all this they won a penalty when Dzeko threw himself at Craig Gardner theatrically. O'Neill's thought Dzeko would be booked for diving, only to see Phil Dowd award a penalty that Balotelli converted with five short steps. It was the kind of penalty that City's executive, Patrick Vieira, suggested only big clubs get. Come May it is unlikely to matter.

Manchester City (4-4-2): Hart; Richards (Johnson, h-t), Kompany, K.Toure, Kolarov; Silva (Tevez, 58), Y.Toure, De Jong, Milner (Pizarro, 81); Dzeko, Balotelli.

Sunderland (4-4-1-1): Mignolet; Bardsley, Turner, Kilgallon (Kyrgiakos, 81), Colback; Larsson, Cattermole (Vaughan, 90), Gardner, McClean; Sessegnon; Bendtner.

Referee Phil Dowd.

Man of the match Sessegnon (Sunderland).

Match rating 8/10.

Tussle at the top

23 Oct Beat United 6-1 to go five points clear.

27 Nov Draw 1-1 with Liverpool still five points clear.

3 Dec Beat Norwich 5-1 but United are level having played one more game.

18 Dec Beat Arsenal 1-0 to lead by two points.

26 Dec Draw 0-0 with West Bromwich. Level on points

11 March Lose 1-0 at Swansea. United ahead, by one point, for first time this season.

News
peopleTop Gear presenter and all-round controversialist is at it again
Life & Style
techHow a 'grey brick' took over the world of portable gaming
Sport
Aaron Ramsey celebrates after opening the scoring in Arsenal's win over Hull `
sport
News
peopleActress speaks out against historic sexual assault claims, saying things have 'gone quite far now'

VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
News
Coren Mitchell, who is the daughter of the late broadcaster Alan Coren and is married to comedian David Mitchell, produced a hand to make poker history at the 98th EPT main event.
peopleJournalist and TV presenter becomes first ever two-time winner of the European Poker Tour
Arts & Entertainment
A stranger calls: Martin Freeman in ‘Fargo’
tvReview: New 10-part series brims with characters and stories

Life & Style
Guests enjoy food and cocktail parings by Chefs Jimmy Bannos, Jimmy Bannos Jr, Daniel Rose and Mindy Segal with mixologists Josh King and Alex Gara at Bounty & Barrel: A Jack Daniel's Single Barrel Dinner Series at Heaven on Seven on April 9, 2014 in Chicago, Illinois.
food + drinkSprinkle Palcohol 'on almost any dish' for 'an extra kick' firm says...
Arts & Entertainment
Shaun Evans as Endeavour interviews a prisoner as he tries to get to the bottom of a police cover up
tvReview: Second series comes to close with startling tale of police corruption and child abuse
Arts & Entertainment
Schwarzenegger winning Mr. Universe 1969
arts + entsCan you guess the celebrity from these British Pathe News clips?
News
politicsLabour launches the 'completely hollow' Easter Clegg
Sport
Luis Suarez celebrates after scoring in Liverpool's 3-2 win over Norwich
sport Another hurdle is out of the way for Brendan Rodgers' side
News
Portrait of Queen Elizabeth-II by David Bailey which has been released to mark her 88th birthday
peoplePortrait released to mark monarch's 88th birthday
Arts & Entertainment
The star of the sitcom ‘Miranda’ is hugely popular with mainstream audiences
TVMiranda Hart lined up for ‘Generation Game’ revival
Life & Style
The writer, Gerda Saunders, with her mother, who also suffered with dementia before her death
healthGerda Saunders on the most formidable effect of her dementia
Arts & Entertainment
Last, but by no means least, is Tommy Cooper and the fez. This style of hat became a permanent trademark of his act.
comedyNot Like That, Like This centres on alleged domestic abuse
Caption competition
Caption competition
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Rubin ‘Hurricane’ Carter: The man who could have been champion of the world - and the Bob Dylan song that immortalised him

The man who could have been champion of the world

Rubin ‘Hurricane’ Carter and the Bob Dylan song that immortalised him
Didn’t she do well?

Didn’t she do well?

Miranda Hart lined up for ‘Generation Game’ revival
The Middle East we must confront in the future will be a Mafiastan ruled by money

The Middle East we must confront in the future will be a Mafiastan ruled by money

In Iraq, mafiosi already run almost the entire oil output of the south of the country
Before they were famous

Before they were famous

Can you guess the celebrity from these British Pathe News clips?
Martin Freeman’s casting in Fargo is genius

Martin Freeman’s casting in Fargo is a stroke of genius

Series is brimming with characters and stories all its own
How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

A History of the First World War in 100 moments

A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

Cannes Film Festival

Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

The concept album makes surprise top ten return

Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
10 best baking books

10 best baking books

Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
Jury still out on Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini

Jury still out on Pellegrini

Draw with Sunderland raises questions over Manchester City manager's ability to motivate and unify his players