There was much being made of the fourth successive defeat Manchester City have suffered at the Stadium of Light following another truly surprising result yesterday. What mattered more was that this was the fourth time City have lost away from home in the Premier League this season, and we have not even passed November.
To put that into context, City lost only five times away from the Etihad Stadium on their way to the title under Roberto Mancini in 2012. That same season, Manchester United lost three times away and ended the season level on points with their neighbours.
It feels even more like a damning indictment of a team who must rely on the mediocrity of those challenging for this year’s title still to be in the frame when you consider where they have now lost: Cardiff City (14th), Aston Villa (11th), Chelsea (4th) and now Sunderland (19th), again by the same 1-0 scoreline they had lost by on those three previous visits north.
That made no more sense yesterday than it did in the previous three seasons, at least not statistically. City had more than two thirds of the game’s possession. They out-shot their hosts 23 to five and the corner count came in at a quite amazing 14-0, yet that overlooks the bravery of Sunderland and the chronic lack of wit shown by Manuel Pellegrini’s side.
City had more than 70 minutes to find an answer to the question Sunderland posed, and the fact that Vito Mannone was nowhere near being the home side’s most significant player spoke bundles.
“I’m concerned because we are losing too many points away,” said Pellegrini. “Of course it is very difficult if you don’t win to fight for the Premier League but we are not playing badly. We must improve and I’m sure we are going to win. They had just one chance on our goal. We had the possession and the chances and we didn’t score.”
For those 70 minutes, City trailed to a goal from Phil Bardsley, fashioned when the defender outmuscled Martin Demichelis to the point of illegality to set up a tight-angled one-on-one with Costel Pantilimon. Pellegrini raged after Joe Hart’s mistake at Chelsea, which resulted in one of those four defeats, and he has not played since; yesterday his replacement was also culpable for a goal from which his side could not recover. He turned to the side as the shot came at him.
Sunderland had their lead and Bardsley’s rejuvenation became another bit more remarkable. The defender, an outcast under Paolo di Canio, ran to the point of cramp against Newcastle, scored against Southampton in the Capital One Cup in midweek, and has now scored the winner against City. Sunderland have won three successive home games for the first time in almost two years. It lent itself to a mood of delirium on Wearside, even if they are still second bottom of the table.
Sergio Aguero at least threatened with purpose to break that deadlock but after him there was little comfort for City. Indeed, it was only when Alvaro Negredo was replaced by Edin Dzeko in the 71st minute that the visitors carried a more purposeful threat. With his first touch, Dzeko brought a stinging save from Mannone; he headed wide in the 80th minute. But for all the late pressure, there were no major scares. That was in part due to an excellent performance by Sunderland defender Wes Brown, making his first appearance in two seasons.
“For the fans, the club, the history is more important to beat the rivals but in terms of opposition quality, world-class players, this is the biggest win in my career,” said Gus Poyet, the Sunderland manager. “It’s going to be a good evening tonight, without any doubt. I don’t know how my heart is!
“I am so pleased for the players. They need to believe. It is easy to talk. We can say things and you can write but this new way of playing is working. We need to defend proper and we need to do it all the time. We have won three games in a row. It gives you the home strength that is so important to stay up. Now the table looks OK. Three hours ago it looked awful and we had to play Manchester City!”
Poyet had reckoned without history, and the failings away from home of the team he was facing. City must head to Tottenham, Manchester United, Arsenal, Liverpool and Everton in 2014. That run looks even more daunting now.
Sunderland (4-1-4-1): Mannone 6; Celutska 6, O'Shea 7, Brown 8, Bardsley 7; Ki 7; Giaccherini 6 (Gardner 72, 3), Larsson 7, Colback 6, Johnson 7 (Borini 87); Fletcher 7 (Altidore 77, 3).
Manchester City (4-4-2): Pantilimon 5; Richards 6 (Zabaleta 71, 3), Lescott 5, Demichelis 5, Toure 6, Garcia 5 (Navas 46, 6), Nasri 5; Negredo 5 (Dzeko 71, 4), Agüero 7.
Referee: Mike Dean 7
Man of the match: Brown (Sunderland)
Match rating: 6/10
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