City are pitching their ambitions no higher than a place in the Uefa Cup from Sven Goran Eriksson’s first season at the helm but for the moment they can still take a loftier view. A seventh consecutive win in this stadium – the club’s best start to a season on home soil for more than a century – lifts them back into third place in the Premier League, ahead of Chelsea and only two points behind the joint leaders.
It was not a classic performance, but one moment of quality, finished off by Stephen Ireland’s excellent volleyed goal in the 67th minute, was enough to keep Eriksson’s stock high and confirm to Roy Keane, with only two victories so far, how difficult it is to win matches at this level.
The objective for City had been to waste no time in restating their intentions after the embarrassment of conceding six goal at Chelsea. In a sense they achieved it, although the former England manager conceded they have lost a little of their earlier elan.
“After what happened in London it was important to defend well and we did defend well. I’m very happy with the three points, very happy with the seven wins at home but I know we can, maybe should play better.” he said.
Indeed, it took City half an hour to string together a passing move with anything resembling fluidity. When Elano responded to a combined prompt by Ireland and Emile Mpenza by bearing down on Craig Gordon’s goal it was at least encouraging, even if the finish was weak.
Yet, the decisive goal apart, it was a performance, like a dud firework, that never ignited. It was a pity that the home crowd did not have more to enthuse about. It might have curbed their desire to boo Keane, whose treatment was particularly vitriolic when he made his first appearance in the technical area, although given his history, especially with regard to City’s Alf-Inge Haaland, it was only to be expected. Keane was not feeling sorry for himself, nor for his team, for all their honest endeavour.
“We did not produce enough in the final third to deserve anything,” he said. “The difference was one bit of quality. This was a night when City were not at their best but they are a team who can produce a bit of quality even when they aren’t at their best.”
The loss through injury of Micah Richards, generally regarded as Eriksson’s best defender, had given the plot an added twist. It meant an adjustment at the back in which Vedran Corluka moved inside and Sun Jihai made his first start for Eriksson at right back.
When Liam Miller doggedly dispossessed Ireland early in the second half the end result was a shooting chance for Kenwyne Jones and a good save by Joe Hart.
But just as frustrations were beginning to mount for the home crowd, who had seen Eriksson send on both Darius Vassell and Rolando Bianchi in the hope that something might spark, at last came a moment to savour. After Martin Petrov’s rangy diagonal ball to Javier Garrido had changed the angle of attack, Vassell darted into space on the left of the penalty area, found Ireland with a fine far post cross, to which the Republic of Ireland international responded with a splendid volley for his first goal of the season, although he may regret deciding to celebrate by lowering his shorts.
Goals: Ireland (67) 1-0.
Manchester City (4-4-1-1): Hart; Sun Jihai, Corluka, Dunne, Garrido; Ireland, Hamann, Johnson (Vassell, h-t), Petrov; Elano (Ball, 81); Mpenza (Bianchi, 56). Substitutes not used: Isaksson (gk), Geovanni.
Sunderland (4-4-2): Gordon; Nosworthy, Collins, Higginbotham, Harte; Leadbitter, Etuhu, Miller, Murphy (Wallace, 57); Jones, Stokes (Chopra, 57). Substitutes not used: Ward (gk), Kavanagh, Connolly.
Referee: A Wiley (Staffordshire).
Booked: Sunderland Nosworthy.
Man of the match: Ireland.
Attendance: 40,038.Reuse content