Manchester City remain upwardly mobile, their seventh straight home win in all competitions suggesting that seventh place in the table might be their destiny, but you wonder more as the weeks go by whether the man who was to have been central to the Arab owners' project for the club will be present on the onward journey.
The word from the Robinho camp is that the Brazilian is quite satisfied in Manchester, though there have been no goals since December and the insipid nature of a missed penalty – a shimmy, a half-shot and goalkeeper Marlon Fulop barely needing to strain a sinew – summed up his afternoon.
What did Mark Hughes think of an individual commanding £160,000 a week placing a shot well within Fulop's grasp when staring into the whites of his eyes in the closing stages? The City manager's gaze to the skies and rueful exchanged glance with his assistant, Mark Bowen, told us. It was a lifetime from that breathtaking, looped goal in similar circumstances against Arsenal in November, though Hughes insisted his player is not lacking self-belief.
"He was confident enough to take the ball for the penalty," he said. "He is always of that positive frame of mind and had desire to make amends later."
Hughes could, however, take comfort from Micah Richards, whose star has been fading for 12 months but whose bulldozing runs have been restored of late and were rewarded with his first goal since the one he got for England against Israel in September 2007. "He has been lacking confidence but we forget sometimes he is only 20 years of age," Hughes said. "He will have fluctuations in form but seems to be coming good."
Elano also impressed, providing the cross from which Richards rose unhindered by Sunderland's Calum Davenport to head home. But the afternoon was unconvincing, turning on the 15th-minute decision of the referee, Steve Tanner, to dismiss Sunderland's George McCartney for the faintest pull on Shaun Wright-Phillips as he chased a ball which seemed out of his control. The penalty, five minutes later, was more clear-cut, Steed Malbranque scything into Richards.
The defeat leaves Sunderland, who failed to produce a shot on Shay Given's goal, scrabbling around in a relegation dogfight worsened by Portsmouth and Stoke's wins. "We could have done with getting something decent today," Sbragia said.
Goal: Richards (56) 1-0.
Manchester City (4-2-3-1): Given; Richards (Garrido, 82), Onuoha, Dunne, Zabaleta; Kompany (Fernandes, 84), De Jong; Wright-Phillips, Elano, Robinho; Bojinov (Bellamy, 64). Substitutes not used: Hart (gk), Evans, Etuhu, Berti.
Sunderland (4-5-1): Fulop; Bardsley, Collins, Ferdinand, McCartney; Edwards, Whitehead, Leadbitter, Murphy (Davenport, 16), Malbranque (Reid, 72); Jones (Cissé, 72). Substitutes not used: Gordon (gk), Yorke, Healy, McShane.
Referee: S Tanner (Somerset).
Booked: Manchester City Bojinov, Fernandes Wright-Phillips; Sunderland Bardsley, Davenport, Leadbitter, Reid.
Sent off: Sunderland McCartney (15).
Man of the match: Richards.
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