Vassell and Sinclair strike to drive City top of table

Sunderland 1 - Manchester City 2
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The Independent Football

Don't mention records to Sunderland. They remain where most pundits have them pencilled in for May, bottom, in the wake of an 18th consecutive Premiership defeat thanks to first-half goals from Darius Vassell, his first since completing a £2m move from Aston Villa, and Trevor Sinclair.

Anthony Le Tallec's deflected header gave Sunderland brief hope before the break. However, they failed to convert one of several second-half chances, most notably as Dean Whitehead headed wide 20 minutes from time to ensure the hosts chalked up a 23rd top-flight game without a victory.

It took the visitors only 10 minutes to dampen Sunderland's enthusiasm. Andy Cole had already wasted one opportunity carved out by Joey Barton when the midfielder took centre stage once again, accepting a deft Claudio Reyna flick to send Vassell scurrying towards goal with a perfectly weighted through ball.

Vassell's foot race with Alan Stubbs ended predictably as the forward - who clearly relishes this stadium having scored here for England during a European Championship qualifier against Turkey in 2003 - curled a low right-foot shot beyond Kelvin Davis from 15 yards.

Le Tallec caught the eye on his Sunderland debut on loan from Liverpool, and with a little more composure might have had a hat-trick before the interval.

However, the Frenchman was twice denied by David James following good approach play by Andy Welsh, who had been cleared to play earlier in the day after the red card he received at Anfield was rescinded.

The misses were compounded when Sinclair doubled the lead on 35 minutes, courtesy of a ruthless low finish from the edge of the area to round off a Kiki Musampa-inspired move.

Le Tallec atoned somewhat by heading Sunderland back into the contest on 41 minutes, rising well to meet a Whitehead corner and scoring with the aid of a significant deflection off defender Richard Dunne.

Sunderland supporters streamed out of the Stadium of Light in resignation. They had once again seen their side give a wholehearted performance which lacked nothing in effort and commitment, but which was sadly short on quality.

For their part, City look capable of improving on last season when they were denied a Uefa Cup place by Mark Schwarzer's last-minute penalty save from Robbie Fowler in the final game of the campaign.

City's manager, Stuart Pearce, has fashioned an accomplished side that will trouble more impressive outfits than Sunderland.

Sunderland (4-4-1-1): Davis; Nosworthy, Stubbs, Breen, Arca; Elliott, Whitehead, Miller, Welsh; Le Tallec (Lawrence, 82); Gray (Stead, 46). Substitutes not used: Murphy (gk), Robinson, Caldwell.

Manchester City (4-4-2): James; Mills, Jordan (Onuoha, 75), Dunne, Thatcher; Barton, Musampa (Jihai, 80), Reyna, Sinclair; Cole, Vassell. Substitutes not used: De Vlieger (gk), Sibierski, Wright-Phillips.

Referee: P Walton (Northants).