With Newcastle having downed Tottenham earlier today, title-hopefuls Manchester City suffered a setback of their own as Phil Bardsley and Sunderland downed the Citizens at the Stadium of Light on Sunday.
Bardsley scored after a major defensive mistake from the City back line, and the home defense did its job after as City’s red-hot partnership of Sergio Aguero and Alvaro Negredo produced nothing significant in front of goal.
Like Spurs earlier, Manchester City wasted a host of shots – 23 of them to be exact – and Manuel Pellegrini’s bunch will be ruing their lack of creativity, not something said often this season.
The game began as a harsh, physical midfield battle with City bringing little width as they lumped all their midfielders relatively centrally.
Very little took place at the Stadium of Light until a goal lit up the home crowd in the 21st minute. Phil Bardsley locked himself onto a ball from Wes Brown, and after a defensive mix-up he clinically finished past Pantilimon for a surprising home lead.
Martin Demichelis and James Milner collided in an attempt to mark Bardsley, and it freed the defender to slot past the massive Romanian keeper.
The goal sprung the game wide open, as both teams pressed for more. Sergio Aguero flew a header wide in the 32nd minute which he’ll wish he had back, as Alvaro Negredo’s cross came beautifully across the face of goal to Aguero at the back post.
Adam Johnson, causing City all kinds of problems down both wings, nearly won a penalty battling with Milner on the left flank but referee Mike Dean said no as both players were battling for an advantage.
The match also featured some crunching tackles, with Javi Garcia earning a yellow card midway into the first half for his efforts. Sebastian Larsson nearly found himself into the book or worse, but somehow Mike Dean let him off the hook for a horrible challenge on Garcia that got no ball and all shin.
That challenge left Garcia substituted off at halftime for the attacking-minded Jesus Navas, and he helped build some attacking presence. The game, however, slipped back into the early first-half form of a midfield battle.
Ki Seung-Young had a chance from long-distance in the 58th minute but his slicing effort was always going wide.
Following that Manchester City began to assert their second-half dominance on the ball, but like Spurs earlier in the day could not produce a dangerous final ball. Sunderland’s defense remained very rigid and maintained its shape, and City never got seriously in past the back four until late searching for an equalizer.
Finally, in the final 10 minutes, the sense of urgency set in for Manchester City still down the early goal. Substitute Edin Dzeko and Alexander Kolarov had some serious attempts on Vito Mannone’s goal, but Dzeko hit wide and Kolarov put the ball into the side netting.
Sunderland put every single player back behind the ball as City threw everything forward, but there was absolutely no space between the Black Cats players.
It’s a statement win for Sunderland, who remain in 19th position but are now in sight of the exit from the relegation zone, where three weeks ago they were in dire straits. Manager Gus Poyet has come in and picked up two wins where Paolo Di Canio couldn’t get one.
Sunderland – Bardsley 21′
Sunderland – Mannone; Celustka, Bardsley, Brown, O’Shea; Ki, Larsson, Colback, Johnson (Borini, 87′), Giaccherini (Gardner, 72′); Fletcher (Altidore, 77′).
Manchester City – Pantilimon; Richards (Zabaleta, 71′), Demichelis, Lescott, Kolarov; Milner, Toure, Garcia (Navas, 45′), Nasri; Aguero, Negredo (Dzeko, 71′).