MAN CITY 2, SUNDERLAND 2
On the day when it was revealed Manchester City have the most expensively-paid team in world sport, they hardly performed like world beaters as they were surprisingly held at home by bottom-club Sunderland.
And the unexpected loss of two points against the Black Cats was a massive dent to City’s hopes of winning the Barclays Premier League title.
There was no inkling of the drama which was to unfold when Fernandinho put City ahead after less than two minutes as a routine home win looked on the cards.
Sunderland hit back with two goals from Connor Wickham, a player who until recently was on loan at Championship club Leeds United, as they stunned City by moving 2-1 ahead with seven minutes of normal time left.
And it took a late goal from Samir Nasri after a terrible blunder by keeper Vito Mannone for City to snatch a point from the jaws of defeat as Sunderland remain City’s bogey team.
In their last nine Premier League meetings, City have managed only two victories and this season Sunderland have taken four points from their two league fixtures.
City manager Manuel Pellegrini, who conceded his side didn’t play well, admitted City’s title hopes have been dealt a blow.
He said: “Liverpool and Chelsea have a better chance at the moment, but we will continue to fight to the last game.
“Two years ago we were six points behind the leaders and won it. It will be difficult, but it is not over yet.”
Pellegrini added he was worried coming into the game so soon after the defeat at Liverpool.
He continued: “It was difficult to play three days after the Liverpool game when minds may not be in it.
“Before the match I was worried to be playing against a side battling relegation. It is very difficult when they are fighting every ball.
“I think it was more mental tiredness than physical and difficult to play this game so soon after Liverpool.”
City welcomed back Sergio Aguerro following his lengthy lay off, but on the debit side were without key midfield pair Yaya Toure and David Silva who were both ruled out through knocks.
There was a return to the Etihad Stadium for Sunderland winger Adam Johnson.
Aguero made an instant impact as he helped set up the goal which put City ahead after only one minute and 54 seconds.
He supplied the pass for Alvaro Negredo to dummy and release Fernandinho who shot low past keeper Mannone for his fifth goal of the season and the third fastest in the Premier League this season.
And Brazilian midfield man Fernandinho, playing a more advanced role in the absence of Toure, almost added a second inside 10 minutes but he volleyed over.
Sunderland were also a threat as centre-half John O’Shea twice went close with headers in a lively opening quarter of an hour.
Fabio Borini then beat the offside trap only to pull his shot wide while Johnson blazed wide as the Black Cats continued to trouble City’s defence.
After the promising start, the game died a death with chances few and far between as the teams cancelled each other out.
Aguero was replaced by Stevan Jovetic little over 10 minutes into the second half as he was eased back into action following his absence.
And Jovetic was quickly in the action forcing a diving save from Mannone and then volleying over as they searched for a killer second goal.
Those missed chances were to prove costly as Sunderland equalised with 17 minutes left.
There had been a warning moments earlier when City keeper Joe Hart had to save well to deny Joe Colback.
Substitute Emanuele Gianccherini crossed from the left for Wickham to volley home at the far post from a couple of yards. It was his first goal in the Premier League since December 2011.
City drew level in the 88th minute following an almighty howler from goalkeeper Mannone who allowed a shot from Nasri to slip through his hands and trickle into the net.
Nasri had a chance to win the game for City in stoppage time but blazed over, a miss which summed up a miserable night for Pellegrini’s side.