Verdict: Sunderland 1 Manchester City 1
A combination of great goalkeeping and weak finishing left City needing a moment of beauty from Adam Johnson to draw with Sunderland in a game very much of two halves. Both were hugely frustrating, but for different reasons as we failed to get our game going in the first period, before failing to take our chances in the second.
Given that everyone was saying how City should start with the same eleven who won at Chelsea, it would be churlish to criticise the manager for doing so. Swapping Johnson, who struggled at Stamford Bridge, for Wright-Phillips who did well when coming on as a sub was justifiable. At least Mancini was pro-active in changing things when it was apparent just how badly the system was failing.
Playing three defensive midfielders behind a lone striker can work in a cagey game against the bigger clubs when we’re looking to keep it tight and hit them on the counter. In the fixtures we need to win, it doesn’t allow us to dominate possession and instead gives encouragement to the opposition.
Sunderland was a prime example as the home side started strongly and we had no outlet. The Sunderland centre-backs knew they could get tight on Tevez as he doesn’t have the speed to outpace them if the ball is played over the top. Our trio of central midfielders were to close to each other, making it easy for Sunderland to close them down and force errors on a poor pitch.
In fairness to the defence, Shay Given didn’t have a difficult save to make all match despite the first-half pressure. The goal we did concede was disappointing in it’s simplicity. Malbranque has always had the ability to quickly turn inside and send over a cross. Jones is strong in the air and by arriving late in the penalty area, Kompany wasn’t able to get to him in time.
With Given persisting in hitting long balls, we desperately needed a target of our own and thankfully Mancini saw right in bringing on Santa Cruz when Bridge was injured. The big Paraguayan looked fitter in terms of his movement and he was crucial in the second-half turnaround by winning the ball and bringing others into the game with neat lay-offs.
Unfortunately his performance will more likely be remembered for the chances he missed and one woeful attempt at a cross following good work from Johnson. Regaining his fitness is one thing, taking chances is another. Adebayor may not have enjoyed the physical aspects of this game, but he may well have taken one of our second-half chances.
Mancini’s second change introducing Vieira for Richards was as unlikely as his first. Yet it had a positive effect in moving Gareth Barry out wide as an attacking full-back. The England man’s greater skill enabled better link up play and gave Sunderland additional problems.
The introduction of Johnson was more straightforward and the results were clear to everyone. In his last two appearances (for City and England) Wright-Phillips had done well coming on when the game was opening out after the initial right-wing incumbent had struggled to make an impression. Here the situation was reversed and Johnson was the beneficiary of the extra time and space.
There appears to be some discussion about whether Johnson was crossing or shooting when he scored. Let’s consider it… he’s a goalscoring winger who joined us with a reputation for shooting rather than crossing.Ã‚Â Cutting in on his favoured foot, he meant it alright.
It will be interesting to see who starts next week, as there is unlikely to be much space on the small Craven Cottage pitch against well organised Fulham. Following his peach of a goal, Johnson must be favourite. There’s certainly a freshness and eagerness to do well about the Wearsider that is endearing.
“We feel we lost two points at Sunderland because we missed so many chances to score in the second half.
“The manager told us at half time that what we had produced wasnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t good enough and we improved after the interval.”
In some ways this match resembled one of those Mark Hughes performances such as Bolton or Wigan where we fell behind before stirring ourselves to claim a point. Valiant in a sense, but ultimately two points dropped to a side we were hoping to beat.
The second-half saw a greater determination and aggression from City, which was maintained even when chances were being spurned. Even Barry lost his cool. This tougher atttitude is a welcome one in a team that has to often surrendered without a fight.
For the first time we saw a Mancini side really go for it and we proceded to create more chances than in any other 45 minutes during his reign. If we’re to claim a Champions League place, we’ll need to see more of this. In this fixture we were only denied the three points by a failure to take our opportunities, and that’s not something we can afford to do again.