Verdict: Sunderland 1 Manchester City 0
Goal: Bent 90 pen.
After a promising first half, City allowed Sunderland to take control in the second period and paid the ultimate price with a last minute Darren Bent penalty conceded by Micah Richards. It could all have been so different had Carlos Tevez not spurned an open goal in the first half.
The Tevez miss will dominate the headlines after the match, and questions will also be asked of Micah Richards. The England U-21 player blotted an otherwise decent defensive performance by allowing Bent to get goalside, giving him the opportunity to crumple to the floor when Micah tried to jump over him. It showed Micah hadn’t learnt from a similar offence commited at White Hart Lane last year.
However these two incidents are not the major concerns in the longer term, even if they did decide this fixture. Roberto Mancini was fuming on the touchline before the penalty as we completely failed to perform in the second half.
It was a return to the bad days of last season where de Jong and Barry were pushed deep and the opposition were able to take territorial control of midfield. Yaya went from looking the most dangerous player on the pitch in the first half to being unable to influence the game in the second.
Cattermole and co cut out everything with far to much ease. We were second to the ball and didn’t press to regain possession. The left side of midfield with Barry and Milner was particularly disappointing. Against Liverpool they shared the same wavelength and looked dangerous. Here they shared a lack of pace and inability to press their opponents.
Neither Johnson or Milner ever dominated their full-backs – something which was essential given the limited attacking abilities of our full-backs. Worse, neither of our wide men were able to fully occupy their opponents in the second-half as Sunderland’s full-backs became a genuine attacking threat.
Tevez endured a difficult game throughout as his passing to often failed to reach his team-mates. This sometimes happens with Carlos, but often gets masked by his industry. Following the miss he was then to keen to make amends, trying to beat the whole Sunderland team when team-mates were better placed.
Yet what are Mancini’s options if Tevez is having an offday? An unhappy Adebayor or Jo. Despite all the outlay, that doesn’t feel enough. With two days of the transfer window remaining, should something be done?
James Milner managed to put over a couple of dangerous crosses but there’s nobody in the City attack loodking for that kind of service. It’s probably to late to do a deal for Dzeko, but it’s hard not to feel the Bosnian would be a better fit than Adebayor in Mancini’s side.
Without an aerial presence up front, there’s little for Joe Hart to aim at. Long balls out of defence frequently come straight back as we don’t have a direct option for alleviating pressure.
“I want to speak with the players when they come back from the international break because in the second half we were split in two or three places. We made it too easy for Sunderland.
“It’s vital we understand why we lost this game because there will be times when the other team plays 10 men behind the ball. We must be patient, but if we don’t take our chances we will make it hard for ourselves.”
On the plus side yesterday, the defending of the penalty area was again excellent for the most part. In the first half Steve Bruce focused on packing the midfield, leaving Kolo Toure and Kompany to deal with an isolated Bent. They did this effectively and continued to protect Joe Hart well in the second period when the danger steadily increased.
It shouldn’t be forgotten that for much of the first half we did move the ball around well. It seemed only a matter of time before a goal would come. Aside from the Tevez chance, Yaya went closest on the stroke of half-time when he collected the ball from a flicked on Milner free kick. His shot was deflected wide but it is surely only a matter of time before he opens his account.
The introductions of Adebayor and Silva were understandable, but there was also a case for bringing Vieira on. His performance on Thursday, working the ball forwards, quickly and accurately, from the centre of the pitch was just what we were missing in the second half. His natural authority wouldn’t have gone amiss either.
There’s two days of the transfer window left and it will be interesting to see how the club reacts to this defeat. If anyone was thinking we’re the finished article, then think again. When Tevez has an off-day we lack an alternative.