Sunderland continue to jinx City at Stadium of Light
United old boys to the fore as Black Cats climb off bottom of table
Phil Bardsley of Sunderland scores past Costel Pantilimon of Man City in the Premier League match at the Stadium of Light. Photograph: Michael Regan/Getty Images
Sunderland 1 Manchester City 0: Two Manchester United old boys helped ensure that trips to Wearside are fast becoming a form of purgatory for Manchester City.
Underpinned by Wes Brown’s superb central defensive performance, Phil Bardsley’s unexpectedly accomplished winner secured Sunderland’s fourth successive 1-0 home Premier League victory against City.
It is the sort of sequence beloved by statistical anoraks but what really matters is that Gus Poyet’s team have hauled themselves off the bottom of the table and now have a realistic chance of escaping relegation. Meanwhile awful away form looks set to scupper Manuel Pellegrini’s hopes of masterminding a title challenge.
Poyet’s decision to extract Bardsley from Sunderland’s deep freeze following the full-back’s exile under Paolo Di Canio in the wake of a couple of well documented misdemeanours continues to pay dividends.
This most unlikely hero’s journey along the road to redemption gathered pace with his second goal in two games. Meeting a long pass from Brown – starting his first Premier League game for 22 months – Bardsley surged into the area, shrugging James Milner aside before looking up, cutting onto his preferred right foot and slipping a beautifully weighted, awkwardly angled shot past Costel Pantilimon and on into the bottom far corner. Not bad for a natural right back filling a gap on the left side of Poyet’s defence.
Milner may argue he was the victim of a slight foul but Bardsley’s assured goal rewarded Sunderland for some patient, intelligent, often short passing as their five-man midfield clearly heeded Poyet’s instructions to “take much better care of the ball”.
Brown’s ability to build play from the back proved a huge help. After nearly two years wiped out by serious knee problems during which time the 34-year-old centre half at one point resorted to controversial sugar injections in the joint and later talked Di Canio out of cancelling his contract and retiring him, he played as if on a mission to make up for lost time.
Indeed watching Brown and O’Shea back in defensive tandem it was hard to credit that they were marshalling the Premier League’s most porous against its most potent attack.
Even strikers as menacing as Álvaro Negredo and Sergio Agüero need a little help though and they were not receiving the customary “silver service” from their midfield.
Instead Yaya Touré and Javier Garcia appeared increasingly frustrated after being repeatedly denied room for manoeuvre by the influential Ki Sung-yueng – deployed in a screening role in front of the back four – and the almost equally impressive Jack Colback.
Yet if Ki was key to Sunderland’s progress, Poyet experienced a significant piece of luck when Sebastian Larsson escaped unpunished after what a high, arguably over the top tackle on Garcia. If Mike Dean had seen it properly, the referee would surely have produced a straight red card.
Garcia did not appear for the second half due to an ankle problem triggered by Larsson’s challenge. His place went to Jesus Navas in a switch which involved Milner’s relocation to central midfield.
Navas made a near instant impact, the winger dodging Adam Johnson before delivering a cross which Negredo headed over the bar. All inventive incision, Navas re-invigorated a suddenly possession monopolising City.
Eventually Pellegrini, by now shaking his head in evident puzzlement, had seen an unusually subdued Negredo tightly marshalled for long enough and replaced him with Edin Dzeko.