A late Samir Nasri goal that slipped through the hands of Vito Mannone rescued a point for Manchester City against Sunderland but his subsequent glaring miss means that it may not be enough to help salvage their Premier League title hopes.
The result was the second major blow to City’s championship challenge in the space of four days, with two further dropped points coming on the back of a 3-2 defeat to Liverpool on Sunday. It could have been even worse for City, with Connor Wickham scoring a late brace to leave Sunderland staring at a win that would have revitalized their own aspirations at the other end of the table. Mannone’s late blunder means Sunderland remain a long shot to stay up and, in turn, still leaves City relying on major slip-ups from Liverpool and Chelsea.
Against the side bottom in the Premier League, it appeared that it would be a comfortable evening for City when Fernandinho put them in front after just two minutes. But City were incredibly flat throughout and allowed a Sunderland team bereft of confidence to remain firmly in the contest and grow into the game. They had wasted earlier chances to get their level and there was a sense of inevitability when they finally did. More sloppy defending then saw Wickham double his previous tally in his Premier League career in the space of 10 minutes. Mannone’s error still gave City enough time to push for all three points, but Nasri blazed over the bar from pointblank range in the final minute.
Manuel Pellegrini conceded afterward that the crushing Liverpool loss had still be on his players’ minds, although it didn’t look like that would be the case initially. Sunderland’s sluggish start contributed to their falling behind so early, with captain Lee Cattermole being robbed by Alvaro Negredo. The Spaniard then intelligently stepped over Sergio Aguero’s return ball to allow the incoming Fernandinho a clean sight of goal and his fierce shot went through the dive of Mannone at his near post.
But City failed to capitalize on their early advantage. Indeed the malaise that was engulfing the visitors possessed City as well. And Sunderland should not only have been level but in front by half-time. Former Manchester United man John O’Shea missed two gilt-edge chances from set-pieces, first when making poor contact with a free header six yards out from an Adam Johnson delivery and then when heading over a Sebastian Larsson corner. Another glaring opening soon came and went for Gus Poyet’s side, without Joe Hart being tested. This time Martin Demichelis was caught out from Johnson’s curled ball over the top, but Fabio Borini, with time to turn and assess his options, dragged a low shot wide of the far post.
While Sunderland were now having the better of things, their opponents were all too acquiescing. For a match with so much riding on it at both ends of the table, there was a starling lack of intensity and tempo.
City continued to fail to to raise their game after the half-time interval, allowing Sunderland’s belief to grow that they could get something out of the game despite a run of five straight defeats. Stevan Jovetic produced a couple of lively moments when replacing Aguero, but he couldn’t produce the second goal that was needed to kill off Sunderland.
And with 19 minutes remaining, the hosts paid the price for their listlessness. Substitute Emanuele Giaccherini was played into space down the left of the area and the Italian’s quality ball across the face of goal was volleyed home by Wickham. The striker, recently recalled from a loan spell with Sheffield Wednesday, soon struck again. Again, Giaccherini supplied the assist, this time with a through ball as Sunderland caught City on the break. Wickham looked to have taken it too far wide, but instead unleashed a fierce strike that beat Hart at his near post.
Sunderland’s lead would cruelly last just five minutes. Jovetic’s pull back was met by a tame shot by Nasri that was straight at Mannone. Yet the Sunderland keeper never got his body behind the ball and let it squirm out of his grasp before failing to claw it back in almost comic style. In other circumstances Nasri might have been a hero. Instead, City’s predicament, coupled with a late blazed effort over from six yards out, means his goal is likely to do little to aid City’s charge.