Sunderland emulated Blackburn in stealing points from a Manchester club. Injuries had forced O’Neil to name Craig Gardner and Jack Colback as fullbacks and hot prospect James McClean was given his first start at his new club. Simon Mignolet also returned to the starting lineup as his impressive understudy Kieren Westwood picked up an injury in training.
Roberto Mancini boasted his luxurious but unconstructive bench players by resting David Silva and Sergio Aguero while Samir Nasri and Adam Johnson supported Edin Dzeko in a 3-men frontline. Nigel De Jong and Kolarov were also given a start in the busy Christmas fixtures. However, Man City may have wasted the best opportunity to open up another lead against Man Utd in the title race.
Play of the Game
Sunderland: Sunderland had a great chance to take a surprising lead in front of their own fans in the 2nd minute after Stephane Sessegnon held up the loose ball from a Man City corner with his skill and strength near the half-way line before releasing Nicklas Bendtner with a diagonal through ball only to see Joe Hart coming out commandingly to block off the Dane’s weak shot.
Man City: After some patient passing in Sunderland’s half, Silva found space and his 20-yard strike was pushed away by Simon Mignolet. Micah Richards was in the right place to pick up the loose ball but he headed it against the crossbar in the 88th minute and it was the closest Man City got to scoring a goal.
- Adam Johnson took a short corner to Zabaleta and got the return pass before curling his effort just above the woodwork at the far corner in the 13th minute to make it 1-0 after surviving Sunderland’s early scare.
- Wes Brown was limping after clashing with Adam Johnson in the 25th minute and Sunderland was lucky they were temporarily in control of the match before Mancini’s men could exploit his injury. He was replaced by Matthew Kilgallon in a peculiar back four with more than an hour more to play.
- A Sunderland throw-in just inside the City half was recklessly headed back by Kolarov and Sessegnon was lightning-quick to pick up the loose ball before sending Kompany the wrong way just to see his shot from the outside of his right foot swerve wide from the far post in the 63rd minute.
- Micah Richards came on for the vulnerable Kolarov in the 66th minute and Mancini had used up all his substitutions. He might have regretted such an idea as his players, Adam Johnson in particular, became exhausted as they chased for the winner.
- In the 93rd minute, a 5-on-3 Sunderland break that ended with Sessegnon’s return pass to Dong-Won Ji just outside the box was proved to be the ultimate assist as Ji rounded Joe Hart calmly before sending the ball into the empty net to hand Man City their 2nd defeat of the season. The linesman however was not up to the pace with the break and was unable to flag correctly Ji offside.
Despite the absence of first choice defenders and the injury of Wes Brown, a disciplined and hardworking Sunderland team’s gameplan worked out perfectly well. A textbook counter attack tactic was deployed from the first minute and they managed to keep City players at bay with a packed midfield line. O’Neil made direct substitutions to ensure they continue to frustrate Man City with stubbornness and ubiquity at the back. Even if David Vaughan didn’t have his best game ever, their overall team effort was rewarded with a counter attack goal in the dying minutes (although it should’ve been ruled offside).
A 2nd consecutive scoreless match and their 2nd defeat of the season. With their game against Liverpool in mind amid the busy festive fixtures, Mancini opted to rest Aguero, Silva and Balotelli and relied on Dzeko to send them 3 points ahead United. Yet without Silva nothing seemed to connect on the pitch for Man City. It was evident the Blues became more threatening with Silva (not Aguero) but it was too late for the little magician to conjure a winner. With nearly 70% of possession, they rarely created goal-scoring chances and Roberto Mancini will definitely need to figure out how to regain their 53-goals-in-16-matches form.
Best Performer of the Game
Stephane Sessegnon. Having finally adapted to the Premier League this season, the attacking midfielder showed strength and skills in holding up the loose ball against the huge Man City players and was always looking to invent counter attacks. He had good understanding with lone striker Bendtner and was aware of his teammates’ movement. He was unlucky not to get himself on the scoresheet but his 5th assist of the season proved to be a giant-killing one.
Who could do better?
The linesman (not the writer). Sunderland’s winning goal was proved offside by TV replay and it was equally obvious that the linesman could not catch up with the match at the latter stages. The decision was huge and we could expect the City boss to be exasperated in his press conferences. Does this call for the need of an additional linesman? Or even video replay technology? The quality of refereeing, including linesman, has constantly come under fire this season and it is pity for games or even competitions to be ruined by misjudgments.