Match Coverage

Sunderland 0-1 City: match report and goals

It wasn’t the prettiest of victories, but it’s one that feels very important. After the commotion on Monday, I suppose a trip from Planet Pep back down to Earth was actually quite good for the squad. The scrappy 1-0 win reminded the boys that they’re going to have to work incredibly hard to win this title.

After the game our hero on the night, Joe Hart, paid tribute to the departing Pellegrini and insisted that the side would fight to give him the send off he deserves:

“He has been a top manager for us and his man-management has been something I have personally enjoyed so we will look to give him the best send-off he deserves.

“The players think the world of him, and the fans think the world of him.”

Joe, as is usually the case, is 100% correct. Manuel has earned an almighty send off for the outstanding work (work that certainly hasn’t received the praise it should have) he’s done for us. There’s no doubt he’ll appreciate the poorly-made posters and the tone-deaf choruses of ‘Sheikh Mansour went to Spain’, but he’d much rather leave the club with at least three trophies to his name. And he’ll definitely be hoping for much smoother victories than the one last night.

In fairness to Sunderland, they were fantastic. Backed by a sizzling home crowd, Allardyce’s side clobbered our defence in a superbly vibrant attacking display. New signings Jan Kirchoff and Lamine Koné inspired the performance, the former orchestrating Sunderland’s dangerous wing-play and the latter bullying the 6-foot-1 Yaya Touré out of the game with brute force. Yaya’s no slouch, but there was even a point in the second half when the debutant out-ran the Ivorian and then put him on the ground with a meaty shoulder charge for good measure. This guy is a proper defender and judging from the home supporter’s reaction to his display, Sunderland fans already love him.

One fella defenders rarely succeed in bullying out of the game, however, is Sergio Agüero. With the Argentine in the form he’s in, one chance may be all we need to go and win a game and that was definitely the case on Tuesday. Sergio, who now has 10 goals in his last 12 Premier League appearances, was on hand to prod home a Jesús Navas cross that somehow managed to evade Billy Jones. The wince that crept onto his face when he went to celebrate had every City fan, including myself, writing off this season as a complete waste of time; but it was merely a scrape down the back of the calf. Sergio was fine. We were 1-0 up. The league remained in our grasp.

It was a brave decision by Manuel to go with a 4-4-2 formation that included Kelechi alongside Sergio, but it became increasingly evident that we needed more numbers in the middle as Sunderland responded in electrifying fashion. There was no way you could drop Kelechi after his stunning display against Aston Villa in the cup last weekend and probably expecting Sunderland to sit back and play for a point, it seemed a logical tactic from Pellegrini to make use of the space he affords Agüero. But bar the 16th minute when a poor piece of defending that would prove to be extremely rare on the night let Agüero in, we were doing more defending than attacking.

And that’s not great when you have Nicolás Otamendi and Martin Demichelis in the centre of your defence. The former Valencia man was turned far too easily by Jermain Defoe whose effort produced a phenomenal one-handed save from Hart at the end of the first half (you can stick your Claudio Bravo up your arse, Pep) and his partner, whom he’s allegedly played at a World Cup with, continued to make unnecessarily rash tackles in dangerous areas.

Things changed a little at half time. Fernando came on for Kelechi to plug the hole in the midfield and Otamendi decided to give the performance of his life. New Sunderland man Wahbi Khazri, signed from Bordeaux in a £9m deal on Deadline Day, made sure that Otamendi’s defensive abilities would be tested, putting on an energetic second half show. Otamendi was forced into making an impressive 13 clearances – nine more than any other player; it was a reassuring performance from the 27-year-old who will benefit from the guidance of Pep next term.

There was more control from us with Silva playing some tidy stuff in front of the Sunderland defence and Fernando helping to break the play up, but Allardyce’s side remained the better team. John O’Shea saw a close range effort fly over the bar and Dame N’Doye’s powerful shot was blocked expertly by Nico late into the game. It was a real relief when the final whistle sounded.

Sunderland should have no concerns about dropping into the Championship if they continue to play like that from now until May. Their new signings seem to have drastically improved the team and as much as it pains me to say it, Allardyce obviously has the ability to get them producing some exciting stuff on the pitch. It would be nice to see the Black Cats stay up. Their fans deserve it.

Pellegrini blamed injuries for a clumsy, but resolute display:

“It was a tough game. This is a team who are fighting relegation,” he said.

“They will play every game like a final. It is not our style to play with nine defenders but it was our third game in a week and it was impossible to have a high pace with all our injuries. It was better to defend well and concentrate.

“It is an important three points and now we have to play Leicester at home and they are still the leaders.”

And that game against Leicester is now absolutely massive. Disposing of Liverpool with little trouble last night, they’ve made it clear that they’re going nowhere and are fully capable of lifting the Premier League trophy at the end of the season. There was a vine going round on Twitter after the 2-0 victory showing them playing some beautiful Barca-esque one-touch stuff and you can’t help but admire the exceptional job Ranieri has done with them since taking over last summer. Spurs are another side I think we should be wary of. They’re unbeaten in five in all competitions and have Harry Kane and Dele Alli banging in the goals for fun. Pochettino is proving his credentials as a top manager and there’s no reason why Spurs couldn’t go on to win the league, either.

It’s in our hands, though. If we beat Leicester this weekend we’ll go top of the league on goal difference. We’ve all learnt not to underestimate the Foxes, but I fancy us this weekend. A win would be huge and I’m buzzing for it.

Let’s go and give Manuel the send off he deserves.

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