x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Mancini bemoans City's 'soft' attack after another Sunderland shock

A nervy 1-0 win over City is becoming a holiday tradition on Wearside.

Sunderland's Adam Johnson, second from left, had a point to prove having been sold by Manchester City in the summer.
Sunderland's Adam Johnson, second from left, had a point to prove having been sold by Manchester City in the summer.

Martin O'Neill had said before the game that he would not easily forget the roar that greeted Sunderland's 1-0 win over Manchester City last New Year's Day.

He made it a lot easier to remember by repeating the feat yesterday. A nervy 1-0 win over City is becoming a holiday tradition on Wearside.

Sunderland also beat City 1-0 at home under Steve Bruce the previous season.

"Next year we don't come," said Robert Mancini, the City manager, but that was a rare moment of levity in a largely bleak assessment of a day when the former City winger Adam Johnson sealed the victory with the only goal of the game.

"I think they are really lucky against us," he said. "We keep on creating chances and then we lose the game.

"We need to be stronger. We deserved to win this game, created a lot of chances but didn't score. We don't score enough goals to win the game. We are too soft in attack."

This was not the last-gasp drama of last season, when Ji Dong-won scored in stoppage time in a preposterous smash-and-grab.

Vincent Kompany hit the bar and Simon Mignolet made excellent blocks from Yaya Toure, David Silva and Sergio Aguero but this wasn't anything like the siege of last season.

City controlled the opening quarter of the game but, having survived, Sunderland played with increasing poise, their growing confidence embodied by Matt Kilgallon, making just his fourth Premier League start of the season as a replacement for John O'Shea.

"We gained a bit of confidence from winning against Southampton," O'Neill said. "We took that into the game. We knew at times we'd have to play without the ball and defend strongly.

"We did both well. I thought we played well and not just defensively. I thought we moved it [the ball] well, caused them plenty of problems."

As an oddly predictable City applied pressure late on, Sunderland should probably have increased their advantage, Stephane Sessegnon, Fraizer Campbell and James McClean all squandering opportunities on the break.

City have the memory of coming from eight points down to overhaul Manchester United in the title race last season, so the seven points they now trail the league leaders may not be terminal, but yesterday, as United three times came from behind to win, had the feel of a decisive day.

Sunderland, meanwhile, after three wins in their last four games are up to 13th, seven points clear of the drop and are starting to play as they did at their best last season.

Danny Rose and Carlos Cuellar were exceptional, Sessegnon and McClean are looking sharp and bodies were put on the line. Yesterday, though, was about Johnson, who made a point to the manager who sold him in the summer.

Pablo Zabaleta went down under challenge from Craig Gardner and, as he went down, Cuellar nipped in and laid the ball right for Johnson. He ran at David Silva, cut inside and, seeing Joe Hart edging out for a cross, whipped a shot low towards the near post.

Hart got hands to it and for a bizarre moment only Sessegnon seemed to realise the ball had crept over the line.

Johnson initially raised anguished hands to head before realising the fans in front of him were celebrating wildly.

"Johnson was really clever," said Mancini, refusing to blame his goalkeeper.

"Hart thought Johnson would cross." He was not impressed, though, by the decision not to award a free kick for the challenge on Zabaleta.

"The referee ate too much for Christmas and was not in good form," he said. "How can the referee not see that foul?"

He perhaps had a case in that specific incident - although it certainly wasn't an obvious a foul as he made it seem - but the claim that Sunderland were lucky seemed ungracious.

"He said that last season as well," said O'Neill, his point made and the battle won.

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