The pocket of Blackburn Rovers fans at Old Trafford on New Year’s Eve roared with delight as they witnessed their side take all three points from the home of the champions. It was sheer joy matched by Manchester City fans excited at the prospect of being three points clear of Manchester United at the beginning of 2012 – providing they could beat Sunderland.
It’s been a tough week for Manchester City, a goalless draw against West Brom on Boxing Day saw the Baggies crowned as the only Premier League side to prevent City from scoring so far this season – up until Sunderland on New Year’s Day of course.
Roberto Mancini, with one eye on the Liverpool game and City’s hectic fixture list over the next month, chose what many saw as a weakened team against Sunderland and paid the price as City drew yet another blank despite dominating the possession, the game and creating 19 goal-scoring opportunities. Sunderland, on the other hand, created only a handful of chances and scored the winning goal – replays have since shown it to be offside – in the 93rd minute to pile misery onto Mancini’s men.
Despite the half time introduction of Sergio Aguero, and David Silva moments later in the second half, City were unable to penetrate Sunderland’s dogged defence effectively and a series of last-ditch blocks – most notably by Craig Gardner and Lee Cattermole – prevented the Blues from scoring.
Edin Dzeko went close towards the end of the first half, shaving the crossbar with a volley from the edge of the area, but he is seriously lacking in confidence even though he’s scored ten goals already this season.
In the second half there were chances that fell to both Silva and Aguero that, nine times out of ten, would normally have been taken and a clever Micah Richards header from close range crashed against the bar.
With City pressing for a winner they left themselves exposed to the counter-attack, having got away with two attacks previously Sunderland’s final charge in the 93rd minute saw Ji Dong-Won snatch a late winner that compounded a crazy weekend in the Barclays Premier League.
Worryingly for Manchester City it was the second game in succession that they failed to score despite dominating the game, and with a difficult January ahead they could well regret not taking advantage of United’s slip-up against Blackburn.
Of course there are many games left to be played and plenty of points still to be won, but if City are to push on and win the league they need to find a way to beat teams – especially away from home – that defend with eleven men behind the ball.
Perhaps there was some element of tactical naivety from Mancini who selected an underperforming Edin Dzeko as a lone striker, leaving the mercurial Aguero on the bench and Balotelli in the stands? Having said that there was undoubted quality within the team, but players such as Nasri, Dzeko and Adam Johnson all need to up their game if they want to play more regularly.
In spite of his recent good goal scoring form, Adam Johnson still does not contribute enough over 90 minutes to warrant a starting position within the team. As good an impact player as he is, coming on to run at a tired defence with half an hour left of the game, he needs to step up in the final half of the season.
Manchester City need to concentrate on the Liverpool game and forget about the unfortunate result at the Stadium of Light. After all, the Blues are still top of the league – if only on goal difference.