Manchester City’s title tilt derailed by Sunderland
Draw hands Chelsea back full control of their own destiny ahead of Liverpool clash
Connor Wickham of Sunderland scores his second under pressure from Fernandinho of Manchester City at Etihad Stadium. Photograph: Alex Livesey/Getty Images
Sunderland manager Gus Poyet during the 2-2 draw with Manchester City at Etihad Stadium. Photograph: Darren Staples/Reuters
Manchester City 2 Sunderland 2
This was a shock result that will hardly be believed on Merseyside and in west London. Manchester City’s title challenge is in tatters while Chelsea’s has been handed a massive fillip to make their meeting with Liverpool at Anfield in 11 days a potential championship showdown.
By dropping two points City have put Chelsea’s destiny back in their hands. Before tonight only Liverpool had this advantage.
While Liverpool or Chelsea each now know that win all four remaining matches and the Premier is claimed, City’s hopes appear blown due to two second half Connor Wickham goals with Samir Nasri’s late equaliser not enough.
Precisely one minute and 52 seconds were required for City to clear their heads of any hangover from Sunday’s 3-2 defeat at Liverpool.
Lee Cattermole, who had already hooked one clumsy ball out wide, dallied in possession and was pickpocketed by Álvaro Negredo.
The Spaniard passed infield to Sergio Agüero and when his strike partner returned the ball Negredo allowed it to run beyond him into Fernandinho’s path. The Brazilian was one on one with Vito Mannone and made no mistake for a fifth of his debut season.
Fernandinho should have had a sixth before 10 minutes were played. When Agüero let fly from 25 yards Mannone’s weak parry fell to Pablo Zabaleta but after the ball was turned to the midfielder he could only blast over.
Before this City had a scare with the type of chance that cost them at Anfield. Adam Johnson floated in a free-kick from the right and Vincent Kompany, as he had done against Liverpool, marked air and John O’Shea should have equalised with a free header he steered wide of Joe Hart’s goal.
A carbon copy of this then came from a Sebastian Larsson corner, O’Shea again beating the City captain to the ball and again missing badly.
Apparently these warnings were not enough for the home team. From open play this time, Johnson was allowed to find Fabio Borini in yards of space behind City lines before the sight of Gus Poyet wheeling away with disgust in the technical area told of the Italian’s inability to at least force Hart to save.
All of this epitomised a half that had unfolded into an open, breathless affair that lacked any consistent composure. From Sunderland, who arrived as the league’s bottom side, this would be expected. For City, one of three serious challengers for the championship, it was puzzling.
Zabaleta, though, at least demonstrated his thirst for the contest when, after taking a full-blooded Marcos Alonso hack to his leg, returned to the field following treatment.
The standout City team news had been David Silva not even being on the bench and Agüero making a first start since 12 March, as Manuel Pellegrini made five changes from Sunday’s 3-2 defeat at Liverpool.
The other changes were the injured Yaya Touré, plus Jesús Navas, Edin Dzeko and Gaël Clichy being replaced by Javi García, Milner, Negredo and Kolarov.
City had their 26-goal man back in Agüero in the XI but Silva’s ankle injury had taken the chief orchestrator from the attack. When half-time arrived the loss of Silva could be identified as the prime factor in City’s lack of direction and identity. Yet Nasri, who can work so well in harness with the Spaniard, would have been disappointed to have exerted little influence.
Perhaps Pellegrini had a particular word with Nasri as he started the second half by sliding a deft ball to Agüero inside the area that, for a moment, threatened to allow the latter to double City’s lead.
Yet for an opponent seven points from safety Pellegrini’s side were being posed too many problems. City continued to allow Sunderland space and when Johnson zipped in a cross from the right the “oohs” of the Etihad’s capacity crowd showed the danger this carried.
The sight of Agüero being replaced by Jovetic on 55 minutes was also hardly ideal with the forward perhaps feeling the effect of a first-half Wes Brown challenge.
City, though, despite spend more time camped near to Mannone’s goal, were about to suffer a far more resonant pain when Wickham popped up to shock City with an unlikely strike seven minutes from time