Super Frank saves Manchester City’s blushes

Lampard scores in a vital late cameo to seal three points after Sunderland come from behind

 

Manchester City 3 Sunderland 2

For a second successive game, Manchester City somehow contrived to lose a two-goal lead at home against a team they would normally expect to ease out of their way. This time, however, they spared themselves another inquest and it was another moment to demonstrate why the Premier League champions have been willing to lean on their sister club, New York City FC, to extend Frank Lampard’s stay. They may not like it in Manhattan but when Lampard is still making such a rich contribution for Manuel Pellegrini’s team the decision-makers in Abu Dhabi can hardly be blamed for deciding to keep him for a few more months rather than stick to the initial plan of making him Major League Soccer’s new poster boy.

Lampard had been on the pitch only four minutes when he announced his presence with the fifth, decisive goal of a wild 15-minute spell that had felt utterly incongruous to everything that preceded it. Yaya Touré had opening the scoring in the 58th minute with a majestic shot and when Stevan Jovetic made it 2-0 with a delightful finish of his own eight minutes later it had seemed as though City would coast through the final exchanges.

Instead that was the cue for a Sunderland side to ditch their ploys of conservatism and, lo and behold, discover that City, still missing their captain and organiser Vincent Kompany, can be vulnerable when put under pressure. Perhaps in hindsight Gus Poyet will regret not being more adventurous from the start, especially when Willy Caballero was starting in the opposition goal and had looked decidedly shaky earlier in the season. Joe Hart had been given a day off, perhaps owing to a couple of mistakes in his last two games, and a more ambitious side might have done more to test Caballero’s nerve.

Pellegrini will certainly be startled about the way Jack Rodwell and Adam Johnson both scored within three minutes of one another and the fact these are both former City players merely added to the feeling, following on from the 2-2 draw against Burnley last Sunday, that the home side were in danger of suffering what used to be known here as the dreaded “Cityitis”. As it turned out, we were reminded that the modern-day side have moved on but that was a rough period as Rodwell headed in from a corner and Johnson scored with a penalty after Pablo Zabaleta had scythed down Billy Jones.

Sunderland had barely ventured into the opposition’s half until that period, with Johnson and Will Buckley dropping back as extra full-backs during a bland and quickly forgettable first half and Rodwell playing just in front of defence, looking determined to impress against the club where his career had stagnated.

This was not the first time City have encountered these kind of smothering tactics on their own ground but the game dramatically changed after Touré had let fly – 25 yards out, minimum back-lift, with the ball still rising as it soared into the top corner – for a goal that showed how much they will miss when he leaves for the African Cup of Nations.

Jovetic’s goal was another beauty, playing the ball out to Gaël Clichy on the left and then continuing his run into the penalty area to meet the cross and guide the ball past Costel Pantilimon with a clever flick. Yet City would surely have found it a more straightforward occasion if Sergio Agüero had been around to give them an extra edge in attack. David Silva was prominently involved but unable to emulate his standards of recent matches, and perhaps showing a few signs of fatigue bearing in his mind his recent burst of scoring form had come after a long layoff with a knee injury.

City do, however, have a great habit of holding their nerve when the heat of the battle is suddenly turned up. Lampard fits in seamlessly and his precise header, from another of Clichy’s left-wing deliveries, was his seventh goal for the club during a season when he has mostly been restricted to substitute appearances. As complicated as it might be with New York, here was the compelling evidence why Pellegrini had simply not dared allow him to leave.

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