Manchester City 2 Sunderland 2 match report: Vito Mannone gift saves City but title hopes falter again thanks to Connor Wickham double

Goalkeeper flaps at Samir Nasri's late leveller, but Black Cat striker's two goals in 10 minutes had already done the damage

the etihad stadium

Gerry Cottle's Circus has set up home in one of the Etihad Stadium car parks and there certainly seemed to be that end of season feel about Manchester City here. It should have been an evening when the home side played with a passion, befitting a group of players who have spent too many days looking at the montage of posters fastened to their stadium which commemorate the breath-taking 2012 title win - and who are now ready to write a new piece of history.

By the time City were shaken out of their inertia to do so, Sunderland had set-up a finale like that day two years ago, though the penalty area which Sergio Aguero stamped his mark on has now added a less fortunate name to its legend. Vito Mannone, the goalkeeper whose penalty shoot-out heroics at Old Trafford in February took Sunderland to the Carling Cup final, desperately struggled to wrap a hand around Samir Nasri's 89th minute shot, in a way which sent him flapping through the mud, swatting a hand at it, again and again, before the ball slithered over the line.

An inch more purchase from the goalkeeper's right glove might prove the difference between Sunderland's presence or absence from the Premier League, because Connor Wickham's two goals in ten minutes had certainly left Gus Poyet touching victory. Still six points adrift of safety with Chelsea and Manchester United among five to play, Sunderland look doomed despite their heroics - as Gus Poyet virtually admitted in his estimably charming way.

Pellegrini's despair would have been by far the deeper, though - masked as it was by that implacable demeanour of his. Since Chelsea outthought and outfought City here in mid-February, his side have lost that imperious swagger and that way of making three, four and five-goal hauls a regulation. The injury bulletin their manager revealed again conveyed the impression of a worn-out side. David Silva had missed the game - and City missed him - because of his long-standing ankle problem. Sergio Aguero's long absence with hamstring trouble left him incapable of more than 55 minutes' work. Vincent Kompany looked as unfit for combat as he had with his leg strapped up at Anfield four days ago. Yaya Toure's absence with a groin injury was felt most deeply of all.

Connor Wickham scores his second of the night (Getty) Connor Wickham scores his second of the night (Getty)
The Chilean suggested that it was Sunday's defeat at Anfield which had damaged his players psychologically. “I think we couldn't take out of the mind the game against Liverpool so we couldn't play well,” he said.  But the inspirational qualities, missing in Roberto Mancini and sought out in Pellegrini by City's owners, were missing when needed.

Nasri's late equaliser is more valuable than those City fans who issued a chorus of boos at the end may realise. City's best hopes now reside in Chelsea knocking Liverpool out of the title race. If they win at Anfield a week on Sunday and City win their games in hand, they could still edge out Brendan Rodgers' side on goal difference. Yet there can be no misunderstanding about the scale of the calamity which this result represented.

The physical pain they experienced from the start revealed that it would not be easy. Wes Brown's leap into Sergio Aguero - two feet off the ground in the seconds before his right foot slammed into Aguero's own - left the Argentine writhing on the turf and Brown lucky to have escaped scot free. Marco Alonso promptly performed an eye-watering air kick into Pablo Zabaleta's shin.

Connor Wickham celebrates scoring for the second time (Getty) Connor Wickham celebrates scoring for the second time (Getty)
And though City managed to ease into a characteristically early lead - Alvaro Negredo robbing Lee Cattermole and finding Aguero, whose return pass Negredo allowed to run under his boot to set Fernandinho free to score, two minutes in  - the first half revealed City's same capacity to make defending less than straightforward that we witnessed at Anfield.

For 45 minutes, Adam Johnson looked as dangerous as anyone on the pitch, delivering an in-swinging corner that John O'Shea leapt clear of the City defence to head wide. Fabio Borini was equally profligate - shooting when he should have squared to Jack Colback, after running to seize a clipped Johnson ball that Martin Demichelis could not drag down.

Samir Nasri clutches his shirt and looks to the heavens after missing a chance (Getty) Samir Nasri clutches his shirt and looks to the heavens after missing a chance to rescue victory for Manchester City (Getty)
But there was always valour in Poyet's players. Colback, like Johnson, revealed promise - though hesitated a fraction too long before unravelling a shot when Johnson released him into the inside right channel. And then Wickham stepped up. A few months ago, he had looked like another big money 21-year-old drifting into oblivion, when Poyet pulled him back from a loan spell a Leeds United and said that Sunderland should view him as a new signing. He struggled in his comeback game at Liverpool three weeks ago but the quality of his finish revealed why Steve Bruce paid £8.1m for him - and why Poyet gambled on him in his desperate for the serviceable striker Sunderland had been missing.

It was the substitute, Emanuele Gianccherini, who was Wickham's supplier. The game had 18 minutes to run when he crossed for the striker to tuck in at the back post. Then his cross allowed him to get in ahead of Fernandinho to beat Joe Hart at the near post. Having saved City from embarrassment, Nasri might have scored a second of his own, but he blasted over at the death.

You could sense the reservoir of joy, flooding down the M62.

Man of the match Wickham.

Match rating 7/10.

Referee M Atkinson (West Yorskhire).

Attendance 47,046.

News
Young Winstone: His ‘tough-guy’ image is a misconception
people
Arts and Entertainment
Man of action: Christian Bale stars in Exodus: Gods and Kings
film
Sport
Adnan Januzaj and Gareth Bale
footballManchester United set to loan out Januzaj to make room for Bale - if a move for the Welshman firms up
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer
filmIdris Elba responds to James Bond rumours on Twitter
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
Hackers revealed Oscar-winning actress Lawrence was paid less than her male co-stars in American Hustle
people
Arts and Entertainment
Ellie Levenson’s The Election book demystifies politics for children
bookNew children's book primes the next generation for politics
Sport
Wayne Rooney warms up ahead of the English Premier League football match between Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester United at White Hart Lane
football
News
Outspoken: Alexander Fury, John Rentoul, Ellen E Jones and Katy Guest
newsFrom the Scottish referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones
film
News
i100
Sport
Yaya Sanogo, Mats Hummels, Troy Deeney and Adnan Januzaj
footballMost Premier League sides are after a striker, but here's a full run down of the ins and outs that could happen over the next month
News
Nigel Farage celebrates with a pint after early local election results in the Hoy and Helmet pub in South Benfleet in Essex
peopleHe has shaped British politics 'for good or ill'
Voices
Strictly Come Dancing was watched by 6.9m viewers
voicesIt has been hard to form generally accepted cultural standards since the middle of the 19th century – and the disintegration is only going to accelerate, says DJ Taylor
News
Danielle George is both science professor and presenter
people
News
i100
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

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

Day In a Page

War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

The West needs more than a White Knight

Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

The stories that defined 2014

From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?
Finally, a diet that works: Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced

Finally, a diet that works

Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced
Say it with... lyrics: The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches

Say it with... lyrics

The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches
Professor Danielle George: On a mission to bring back the art of 'thinkering'

The joys of 'thinkering'

Professor Danielle George on why we have to nurture tomorrow's scientists today
Monique Roffey: The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections

Monique Roffey interview

The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections
Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

Their outrageousness and originality makes the world a bit more interesting, says Ellen E Jones
DJ Taylor: Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

It has been hard to form generally accepted cultural standards since the middle of the 19th century – and the disintegration is only going to accelerate, says DJ Taylor
Olivia Jacobs & Ben Caplan: 'Ben thought the play was called 'Christian Love'. It was 'Christie in Love' - about a necrophiliac serial killer'

How we met

Olivia Jacobs and Ben Caplan
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's breakfasts will revitalise you in time for the New Year

Bill Granger's healthy breakfasts

Our chef's healthy recipes are perfect if you've overindulged during the festive season
Transfer guide: From Arsenal to West Ham - what does your club need in the January transfer window?

Who does your club need in the transfer window?

Most Premier League sides are after a striker, but here's a full run down of the ins and outs that could happen over the next month
The Last Word: From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015

Michael Calvin's Last Word

From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015