Johnson takes the opportunity to remind Mancini of his worth
Sunderland 1 Manchester C 0:Adam Johnson believes Roberto Mancini failed to offer him a fair chance at Manchester City while the Italian feels the England winger lacked the discipline and professionalism demanded at the highest level. There was probably an amalgam of faults and justifiable gripes on both sides but Johnson delighted in jogging Mancini’s memory by scoring Sunderland’s winner to severely dent City’s title defence.
Johnson grew into the game and eventually served up a reminder why Martin O’Neill was so keen to spend €12.2 million on him last summer.
“Adam’s starting to show the form we know he’s capable of,” said the Sunderland manager. “He was magnificent.”
O’Neill has endured weeks of underachievement from Johnson and his team but three wins in their last four games have dragged Sunderland clear of the relegation zone. The display reminded Wearside fans of a similar New Year win over City in 2012 and and later a spring-time draw at the Etihad.
Mancini is a superstitious manager and, as the half-time whistle blew, he may have feared the worst again, monopolising possession, City had dictated the first 45 minutes but, despite the excellence of Carlos Tevez’s movement and distribution, Simon Mignolet had rarely been properly troubled.
Tevez conjured a decent chance after supplying Sergio Aguero with a brilliant pass, but Mignolet proved more than equal to David Silva’s eventual shot following Aguero’s lay-off.
Joe Hart had to work considerably harder to dive smartly and divert Steven Fletcher’s low drive away for a corner.
On Sunderland’s left James McClean was in form against Kolo Toure. Reprising last season’s dynamic form, the young Irish winger persistently troubled City on the break.
“James has had a pretty difficult time lately but he was truly terrific today,” said O’Neill.
With Danny Rose and Stephane Sessegnon in similarly threatening mode and Carlos Cuellar and Matthew Kilgallon presenting an obdurate defensive barrier, City struggled to find penetration.
Then Johnson, who passed a late fitness test, cut inside Silva and from 25 yards beat Hart with a shot that squirmed beneath him and squeezed inside his near post. Johnson did not initially realise his shot had gone in and had placed his hands on his heads in a shoulder-shrugging “if only” gesture before his team-mates raced over to congratulate him.
“Adam did look a bit stunned,” said O’Neill. “But I have to admit it was a few seconds until I realised he’d scored.” City’s bench vented their displeasure at officials who had allowed play to continue despite Zabaleta remaining down on the pitch after a challenge from Craig Gardner.
Sunderland might have scored again but Sessegnon shot wide. As darkness fell, Rose was far from the only Sunderland player to put his body on the line for the Wearside cause but the roar that greeted the final whistle spoke not merely of relief but of renewed belief in O’Neill’s team.