x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

Magic from Johnson earns Man City a point

Adam Johnson enjoys a dream return to the north east of England by rescuing a vital point for Manchester City.

Kenwyne Jones, right, scorer of Sunderland's opener, tangles with City's Vincent Kompany.
Kenwyne Jones, right, scorer of Sunderland's opener, tangles with City's Vincent Kompany.

SUNDERLAND // Adam Johnson enjoyed a dream return to the north east of England by rescuing a vital point for Manchester City. The winger, born in nearby Easington, curled a shot into the top corner in injury time to break the hearts of Sunderland fans, including members of his own family. It was his first goal for City since a January arrival from Middlesbrough and one desperately needed in the battle with Spurs for fourth place.

Battling Sunderland had led since the ninth minute when Kenwyne Jones headed home his eighth goal of a disappointing campaign. Sunderland's first win against the visitors since 2000 looked likely with keeper Craig Gordon, making several crucial second-half saves. But Johnson struck with a cracker to earn City a deserved point. Steve Bruce had hoped the 4-0 win over Bolton in midweek would galvanise his Sunderland team and provide the platform to show they were better than their placing among the relegation stragglers.

Who better to do that against than City, whose last game saw them ruthlessly destroy the league leaders Chelsea on their home patch. The difference of that first victory in 15 games for Sunderland was crystal clear. Confidence oozed out of the team and particularly Jones. The fourth minute should have served ample warning of his threat and intent. Picking up the ball just inside the visitor's half, he rampaged forward - in a manner not too dissimilar to Didier Drogba - and saw a low 20-yard shot comfortably held by Shay Given. Five minutes later, the City keeper was left rooted as Jones rose above Vincent Kompany to meet a cross from Steed Malbranque and plant a header into the corner.

It was no more than Sunderland deserved for their first-half efforts. Direct and determined, Roberto Mancini's men were given little time or opportunity to settle and simply play. Carlos Tevez, their Argentine inspiration, showed his frustration with a sliding tackle on Michael Turner that earned him a booking. When City did get a sight of goal in the 31st minute, it was almost fortuitous. Micah Richards did well to find space on the right, but Shaun Wright-Phillips failed to control his pass and the ball bobbled into the path of Gareth Barry on the edge of the box. He tried to place the shot, but it drifted inches past the post. Two minutes later, Wayne Bridge was taken off with a suspected leg injury and Mancini made a bold move, bringing on Roque Santa Cruz up front and moving Pablo Zabaleta from midfield to left back. The Italian has been criticised for being too cautious, but this offered City much-needed attacking strength and support. It was the Paraguayan striker who settled a thrilling 4-3 win at Eastlands in what proved to be the last game in charge for Mark Hughes in December.

Santa Cruz's presence made a difference with Gordon finally being put under pressure and called upon three times in the first seven minutes after the restart. The Sunderland keeper was first alert to make a block when Santa Cruz burst through. In the 51st minute, Gordon's left leg rescued his side when Wright-Phillips raced through on goal. It was a glorious chance spurned, but still Gordon was not finished as he reacted well at his near post when Craig Bellamy's attempted cross was sliced and sneaking towards the corner. Sunderland had lost their edge when Jones had to go off at the break and be replaced by Jordan Henderson.

City pressed repeatedly, but Gordon was perfectly placed to block a close-range effort from Tevez and then denied Bellamy with his legs. His best save, again with his legs from Bellamy's deflected shot through a host of bodies, looked to have earned three points until Johnson's moment of magic. akhan@thenational.ae