With the New Year celebrations over and most of the top teams (Arsenal aside) did us a favour by dropping points, a special mention has to go to Blackburn Rovers for clearly demonstrating the lack of depth in the United Squad. That aside, today`s game gave Mancini a chance to go three points clear and add to an already impressive goal difference. Sunderland actually had a better points tally in December than City, but history points to a Blue victory, with Sunderland only winning two of the last fourteen meetings.
Mancini, in his wisdom, rang the changes today as a number of star players were rested, possibly with a one eye on Tuesday`s game. The team sheet read as follows: Hart, Zabaleta, Kompany, Lescott, Yaya, De Jong, Barry, Nasri, Dzeko and Johnson. The subs bench consisted of: Pantilimon, Richards, Clichy, Savic, Milner, Silva and Aguero. Comparing today`s bench with that of United`s yesterday, shows how far City have come as a club in such a short time.
City kicked of their first game of 2012 playing right to left and had soon launched their first ball at Dzeko. Having Johnson in the side should give the team more width, something of an issue in the previous couple of matches, as City struggled to break down ‘compact` defences up the middle of the park.
City earnt their first corner of the match on two minutes and Johnson stepped up. His kick failed to clear the first man and suddenly Sunderland were breaking. With alarming speed, Bendtner found himself through on goal with only Hart to beat. The City keeper was off his line and closed the advancing striker with Cobra like speed and the scare was over.
Next shot in anger came from Mclean of Sunderland as he left Zabaleta for dead, cut inside and unleashed a powerful shot with his right foot. Hart once again was up to the task, gathering the ball at his near post.
If the opening five minutes were anything to go by, Sunderland weren`t going to park the bus today and were looking to give as good as they got.
First booking of the game didn`t take long in coming as Yaya sold De Jong short on a pass in midfield and the City bulldog had no other choice than to bring Cattermole down to prevent a Sunderland break. A yellow card was duly and deservedly issued.
City earnt their second corner of the game only a minute later after neat work by Johnson getting to the byline. The kick was well taken and only just missed the head of Lescott.
City were trying to play the ball from the back and were being forced into long balls as the Sunderland forward line defending from the front. This led to possession being lost far too often, but on twelve minutes, after good interplay between Yaya and Johnson, the City wing wizard fashioned a shooting chance that dipped and curled before going over the Sunderland bar.
On fourteen minutes City created a great chance as Yaya played a give and go with Johsnon. The towering Ivorian broke through the Sunderland back line as the perfect through ball found his run. His shot though was scuffed and never threatened the Sunderland goal.
The possession stats for the first twenty minutes must have been alarming for the Sunderland fans as City had seen 69% of the ball, although it must be said they hadn`t fashioned too many chances for all the attacking play.
City were starting to peg Sunderland back and forcing them into hasty passes and this was leading to an increase in the number of mistakes being made by the home side. When in possession, a lot of the good work was going through Johnson but up till now, his attacking flair had lacked an end product.
City nearly broke through again on twenty three minutes as Dzeko broke, but the final ball by Nasri lacked quality and was easily intercepted, allowing Sunderland to break. There followed a period of sustained Sunderland attack as they pressed City back into their own half for the first time in the game, but each time they looked to have gained a good position, the final ball was tame.
On twenty five minutes, disaster struck for Sunderland`s already decimated side as Brown signalled he couldn`t continue and was replaced by Kilgallon.
Sessegnon managed the worst shot of the game on twenty eight minutes as he left his marker and shot from the edge of the City box. The shot had pace and power but unfortunately lacked accuracy as it went out for a City throw in two yards away from the corner flag.
On the stroke of thirty minutes, City earnt another corner as Dzeko`s shot from the edge of the box struck O`shea on its way out. City now upped their game and pressed Sunderland back. First Dzeko and the Nasri had chances to score and Johnson was at the centre of everything.
Another corner followed for City as Yaya burst from midfield and played a one two with Dzeko. Sunderland managed to clear the ball out for the corner. The ball was swung into the near post and cleared by a Sunderland head. It fell invitingly to Dzeko, lurking on the edge of the box. His shot had the keeper beaten hands down, but unfortunately didn`t beat the crossbar.
With six minutes to go, Johnson who had been switched to the left, earnt City a free kick just outside the left side of the Sunderland box. Nasri stood over the ball and played it to his right to the onrushing Barry. Sunderland were wise to the move and quickly closed City down and were soon attacking City again.
As the half drew to a close it followed a similar fashion of City retaining plenty of the ball without creating much and Sunderland occasionally capitalising on a City mistake to temporarily foray out of their own half. Gardner did have a neat shot for Sunderland as the clock went into injury time, but whilst well struck was always going wide of Hart`s left post.
Mancini decided to mix things up at half time as he made an attacking change, replacing the yellow carded and largely ineffectual De Jong with Aguero. The three points were important and City were going for them.
As Sunderland kicked off, Yaya had dropped deeper to line up alongside Barry as The Blues went 4-2-4.
The first attack of note came from Sunderland a minute into the second half and came in the form of a shot from the left after good work by Sessengon. City though, were soon on the attack again. Good work by Nasri on the left as he lost his marker, turned and played a perfect through ball to the overlapping Kolarov. The full back crossed in a neat ball which was cleared straight to Yaya. His shot was tame and mis-hit and went wide of the Sunderland post.
Sunderland followed their shot by earning a corner five minutes into the half. Larson whipped in a ball which Hart was first to and cleared well with his fist. City were on the attack again and Sunderland soon had every man in their own half.
City were noticeably playing more down the wings and earnt another corner when Kolarov`s left wing cross was blocked.
City were awarded a free kick on the edge of the centre circle in the Sunderland half after Aguero had been pulled back. A move of over thirty passes followed before is was capped with a shot by Zabaleta that went wide of the Sunderland post.
As the play stopped, Mancini played his second card, replacing Nasri, who in truth had been poor, with the modern day City hero Silva. The Spanish wizard was quickly involved in setting Dzeko up for a shot after a City corner on fifty six minutes.
The Blue machine was attempting to steam roller Sunderland as the game approached the sixty minute mark as Bendtner looked a forlorn figure. The introduction of Silva seemed to have given the Blues more self-belief and their passing had a renewed vigour.
On the stroke of sixty minutes Kompany gave away a needless free kick on the edge of his own box for fouling Bendtner. Larsson`s shot struck the City wall and fell kindly to Dzeko who quickly found Aguero upfield. The Blues weren`t looking under any serious pressure, but they also hadn`t looked like they were going to score.
The best chance of the game fell Sunderland`s way in the sixty third minute after Kolarov fell asleep at a throw in and allowed the excellent Sessegnon a run at Kompany. The Sunderland forward left City`s Captain for dead and unleashed a wicked shot that had Hart scrambling across the face of goal. Fortunately for City, it went wide.
A minute later and Sunderland`s Larsson was gave away a free kick near the left corner flag and earnt himself a yellow card in the process for pulling on Aguero`s shirt. Before the kick was taken, Richard`s replaced Kolarov and Zabaleta moved to his now familiar left back position.
The tempo to City`s passing had increased in the last few minutes and Sunderland were starting to give away free kicks in order to break up the play. City were creating more chances and the Sunderland defence were earning the wages. Even Bendtner was getting in on the act clearing a City attack from inside his own box on seventy mintes.
Another City corner came to nothing with twenty minutes to go and Mancini could be seen pacing the touchline with a look of frustration on his face as his team once again failed to turn overwhelming dominance into three points.
Time was ticking down for City as the game entered the final fifteen minutes and The Blues were pushing more and more into the Sunderland half, searching for that elusive goal, but try as they might, they couldn`t finish the chances presented.
Sunderland made a change in the seventy seventh minute as Bendtner was replaced by Ji. This was followed by another City chance as Dzeko headed wide of the far post as he failed once again to hit the target.
Two minutes later and into the eightieth and the now familiar sight of Dzeko shooting off target was witnessed once again. This time after great work by Silva and Zabaleta combining on the City left. A minute later and Silva turned provider again whipping in a wonderful cross which Dzeko met and once more missed the target.
Sunderland then replaced Vaughan with Elmohamady as they looked to withstand the onslaught that they would surely suffer as the half drew to a close. City were valiant in their efforts as Sunderland were valiant in their defending but City looked to heading to their only their second consecutive blank of the year.
City so very nearly took all three points with two minutes to spare as Silva and Aguero combined to create a chance first for Silva who hit the cross bar and then Richards who headed the rebound. It just wasn`t going for City as the chance count climbed, they just could not convert.
With fifty seconds left another chance went begging for City as first Aguero and then Barry were denied by Sunderland bodies .
With the last kick of the ball disaster struck for City. Sessegnon who had been played onside by Barry played a wonderful ball to Ji who had been left unmarked by Kompany. The Sunderland player who was in fact offside, scored. The linesman did not signal and the goal stood. One nil to Sunderland and City were the side going home with blushes on their faces. Well done to Sunderland. Valiant defending and they snatched it at the end.
Joe Hart – 7
Opted to punch a lot today. Wasn’t really tested by Sunderland and not at fault for the goal.
Pablo Zabaleta – 7
Played in two positions today and looked as good in both.
Vincent Kompany – 6.5
Lost his man for the goal and seemed to have lost some self belief.
Joleon Lescott – 6.5
Struggled to cope with the pace of Sessegnon. Caught out of position a number of times.
Aleksander Kolarov – 6
Went off injured and his crosses were not up to scratch today. Not as good defensively as Clichy.
Yaya Toure – 6
His final ball and finishing were woeful today.
Nigel De Jong – 6
Ineffective and substituted. His passing is not up to scratch.
Gareth Barry – 7.5
Best of the bunch today. Rarely put a foot wrong.
Samir Nasri – 6
People are starting to question his role in the team as he has failed to shine for too many games.
Edin Dzeko – 5.5
He had more than enough chances to score a goal today and his finishing was utterly woeful.
Adam Johnson – 6.5
Was at the centre of most of the good play in the first half but his final ball was poor. Disappeared in the second half.
Aguero – 6.5
Failed to make an impact when he came on for De Jong. Had one good shot but was often forced to go looking for the ball.
Richards – 7
Almost won it with his diving header and should have started.
Roberto Mancini – 6
eeds to stop the rot as City have had a poor run of form (by their standards) since the start of December.