MAN CITY 3, SUNDERLAND 3
Eighty six minutes of tension followed by eight minutes of noise ended 3-3 as City had to come from 3-1 down to win a point against Sunderland. The Mackems ended City’s 20 game winning streak at home and might have ended their title hopes too but for late goals by Mario Balotelli and Aleksandar Kolarov as City snatched a point from the jaws of defeat.
Despite their late heroics, the result means City are now 2 points behind United who have a game in hand. For the first time this this season City know that their own title hopes are no longer in their hands.
Roberto Mancini was disappointed with City’s performance today and admitted that the title was starting to slip out of reach:
“A draw was the correct result. It’s hard to to win the title now.” admitted Mancini.
“United could make mistakes too and it’s important that we recover one or two points in time for the derby.”
“I think United will draw on Monday.” smiled the Italian.
“We didn’t do a good performance today. I am happy only for the last 10 minutes, for the other 80 minutes I am unhappy because we didn’t play very well.” said Mancini.
“It’s unusual to concede three goals at home.”
“We should have done what we did in the last 15 minutes earlier in the game.”
“I don’t know why we played so poorly – we were flat in the first half.”
“It’s normal when you arrive at the end of the season that some players may be tired.”
In retrospect, this season might have been decided by off the pitch matters and drama concerning all of City’s forwards. It was ironic that Carlos Tevez, who had been AWOL since September, produced more of a goal threat when he came on than Edin Dzeko and Mario Balotelli had done prior to that.
“Mario didn’t play well.” admitted Mancini. “I wanted to take him off after five minutes but in the end he scored two goals.”
“In a game like this the strikers should be the difference but not in the last three minutes. Players like Mario and Dzeko should score two or three goals in the first half of a game like this. We needed our strikers to be the difference.”
Sergio Aguero, City’s top striker throughout the season, was ruled out thanks to a mystery ‘stupid’ injury later denied by Mancini as a spray that induced blisters on his foot but the Italian stressed that the injury was not Aguero’s fault.
Edin Dzeko has been used sparingly and scored few goals this year, and then we come to Mario Balotelli.
Balotelli’s argument with Aleksandar Kolarov over who would take a free kick in the 65th minute once again drew attention to the Italian whom many suggest might have been an entertaining eccentric when City were winning games earlier in the season but his antics have now become a dangerous distraction at the business end of the season and Roberto Mancini himself finally admitted he couldn’t ‘trust’ the mercurial striker but would play him anyway.
The Italian’s two goals helped save a point for City but fans had been losing patience with him after he reaction to being denied two penalties in the first half. The Italian was an unlikely peacemaker when Edin Dzeko appeared to lose his temper with Lee Cattermole after Richards and Jack Colback clashed heads when challenging for the ball just before half time but this was tempered by his petulance in arguing with Kolarov over who should take a free kick in the second half.
Micah Richards had been moved back to right back following the return of captain Vincent Kompany seemed to twist his knee early in the game after challenging James McClean and was later replaced at half time by Adam Johnson with James Milner moving to right back but although Mancini later confirmed that Richards’ injury wasn’t serious, but by then the damage had been done.
City fell behind once again for the fourth league game in a row after Sebastian Larsson’s 31st minute shot crept in with Hart unsighted until it was too late. It was City’s first goal conceded in the first half of a league game since a December encounter against Chelsea 15 games ago.
Mario Balotelli had tested the patience of referee Phil Dowd as he went down twice in and around the area but was declined. Edin Dzeko then won a penalty after being obstructed by Craig Gardner on his way into the area. Balotelli levelled matters from the spot after sending Mignolet the wrong way but City were unable to regain the initiative as Sunderland weathered the storm.
The Mackems were not about to be cowed by City and retook the lead with a goal deep into added time at the end of the first half when Nicklas Bendtner rose unchallenged and headed Stephane Sessegnon’s cross back across the face of goal and into the net prompting boos at half time.
The visitors put their midweek FA Cup disappointment against Everton behind them and extended their lead shortly after half time when Sessegnon’s early pass released Bendtner down the right flank. Bendtner’s cross for Larsson was well timed and the ex-Arsenal midfielder got to the ball before Kolo Toure and slid home past Hart.
Carlos Tevez replaced the anonymous David Silva as City tried to rescue their season but by there was little impetus to City’s attacking and they seemed to be drifting aimlessly towards ignominious defeat punctuated by a row between Balotelli and Kolarov over who would take a free kick.
The Etihad fell silent as chances dried up until a Kolarov pass to Balotelli gave City hope when the Italian pulled one back with a run along the edge of the 18 yard box followed by a curling shot in the 86th minute.
The Etihad finally burst into life and seconds later Kolarov levelled matters after substitute David Pizarro passed the ball to him and the full back unleashed a daisy cutter that beat Mignolet.
Balotelli could have made it a famous victory as time ran out but his late effort was cleared off the line.