It was five different goals and five different goal scorers for Manchester City but yesterday’s clash at the City of Manchester Stadium said as much about City’s class as it did Sunderland’s freefalling form. Flying high and challenging for Europe at the half-way mark of the season, Sunderland now sit only six points above the relegation zone. Manchester City, meanwhile, capitalised on Chelsea’s dropped points and moved third in the Premier League, a point ahead of Chelsea having played a game more.
It is now eight games since Sunderland achieved a victory while having also failed to score since their February 12th clash with Tottenham Hotspur. The Black Cats’ performance yesterday showed exactly why that is the case. City stormed ahead 2-0 after just 15 minutes as their slick and effective football tore Sunderland apart. Fluidity from Yaya Toure and Adam Johnson opened the scoring, with the latter producing a quality finish, staking a claim for a regular place to a manager who often seems to overlook him. Six minutes later, clumsiness from Phil Bardsley, who suffered a torrid time in the first-half from Johnson, gave away a penalty for a foul on Tevez which was coolly slotted home. From then, fouls seemed to dominate Sunderland’s game, committing an alarming 22, suggesting the need for a more creative midfield player in the Sunderland side while also conceding that they came with no other game plan.
However poor Sunderland may have been, credit must be given to a superb City performance, particularly Nigel de Jong at the heart of it. De Jong put on a fantastic display at the root of everything. His tough tackling style was on show but he also distributed some outstanding cross field passes, breaking Sunderland’s initiatives and starting City’s with his long range pass aiding David Silva’s goal. So often embroiled in on-pitch controversy, the Dutchman excelled, adding a more creative element to the so-called “Makelele role”. City’s other controversial figure, Mario Balotelli, also put his troubles behind him. Although not on the score sheet, he assisted Silva’s goal and also looked lively and eager, having more attempts on goal than any other City player. Under fire for his Europa League dismissal and an incident of dart throwing, Balotelli brushed these episodes aside to help his team to a stunning victory.
For all his troubles, Sunderland could well do with someone as talented as Balotelli, at least a more affordable version. Their form has plummeted since selling Darren Bent and their struggle for goals is getting desperate, rarely challenging Joe Hart. Despite their form earlier in the season, Danny Welbeck and Asamoah Gyan, without their third striker in Bent, have been far less prolific and Sunderland’s reliance on Bent is revealed with every game their drought continues. Chairman Niall Quinn argued that he would not keep a player at the club who did not want to play for them but assessing their performance yesterday, he may see as little work ethic from his other players who do purportedly want to play.