Manchester City 3-0 Sunderland – City finally notch clean sheet after timid Black Cats
Manchester City momentarily averted minds from their Champions League struggles after cruising to victory over a distinctly average Sunderland side at the Etihad Stadium. Goals from Aleksandar Kolarov, Sergio Aguero and James Milner ensured their fourth win of the season and, for a short while, catapulted them ahead of rivals Manchester United.
Whilst Roberto Mancini’s men were given just over 48 hours to recover from their midweek humbling at the hands of Dortmund, it certainly didn’t show against Martin O’Neill’s rather more modest outfit. However, the Italian boss did ring the changes after what he described as a poor performance, introducing Mario Balotelli and Carlos Tevez for the wasteful Edin Dzeko and the luckless Sergio Aguero. There was also a recall for, now fit, Micah Richards and Joleon Lescott in a defence which has failed to keep a clean sheet all season.
After the breathless display of slick, high-tempo football from the last visitors to the Etihad it’s fair to say the men in red and white appeared to be running through tar in comparison. Indeed, within a few minutes of the first half, the host’s new look pairing upfront made their mark; as Balotelli slipped Tevez into space only for Carlos Cuellar to come clumsily thundering in from nowhere. City left-back Kolarov ensured the Spaniard’s recklessness cost more than a booking by curling in a fine effort directly from the free-kick.
The Champions continued to dominate as Sunderland chased shadows; Craig Gardner twice bringing down Balotelli before the Italian wasted a presentable opportunity by scooping the ball over the bar from close range. After 15 minutes of getting their breath back the away side roused briefly. Returning winger Adam Johnson reminded his former fans that he was still on the pitch by darting down the right and crossing neatly for Steven Fletcher, only for the Scotsman’s volley to canon off the large frame of Richards. In fairness to the England international he’d complained of sickness all day, and was, according to his manager, still vomiting after the game.
His boss will have been feeling sick himself at the ease substitute Sergio Aguero scored moments after being introduced. Silva, looking livelier every week, fed Kolarov to thunder in a trademark left footed swinger and the Argentine did the rest. Balotelli did his best to garner needless drama from an otherwise routine afternoon by storming straight down the tunnel after being sent off. That didn’t do much to halt wave after wave of City attacks however with Tevez missing a wonderful chance before David Silva struck the bar.
Just when it seemed the Black Cat’s were going to be able to scramble back to the North-East with a somewhat respectable score line considering the 89 minutes that had just past, James Milner dispatched a close range, free kick a minute from time.
Just what the doctor ordered for Mancini who will hope his defence can rediscover their confidence after being handed the easiest ride of their lives by a severely blunt opposition. There will obviously be greater challenges ahead no more so than in Europe, but for now the Champions can rest a little easier on home soil.
Jamie Murphy, Football correspondent