Manchester City goalkeeper Joe Hart has warned arch-rivals Manchester United that the title race is far from over despite their seven-point lead.
The 25-year-old England international was a disappointed man after former club-mate Adam Johnson sneaked a long-range shot past him at the Stadium of Light yesterday to condemn City to a third successive 1-0 Barclays Premier League defeat at Sunderland.
The defeat saw the champions slip further off the pace as they attempted to reel in United, who had to come from behind three times before eventually beating the Black Cats’ north-east neighbours Newcastle 4-3 at Old Trafford in stoppage time.
Blues manager Roberto Mancini was quick to point out that the season was only at the halfway stage as he assessed the implications of an unexpected defeat, and having seen his side chase down United at the back end of the last campaign to snatch the title in a dramatic finale, Hart remained equally bullish.
He told the club’s official website, www.mcfc.co.uk: “We have had leads, United have had the lead – it’s to-ing and fro-ing at the moment.
“We are a team of winners. It’s hard and it hurts, but we have got to move on. It is hard to lead and it is hard to chase too.
“We have clawed points back before, we proved it at the end of last year. We have just got to believe.”
Sunderland’s record against City is remarkable – they were the only side to leave the Etihad Stadium last season with a point – and Mancini joked afterwards that they would not travel to Wearside during the 2013-14 campaign.
In the short term, the Italian’s focus will be on Saturday’s trip to Norwich, where his side won 6-1 in April and where a repeat of that result, if not the scoreline, would be hugely welcome.
Hart said: “The only way we can change it is by winning here next year – but for now, we only have Norwich on our minds.”
City had their chances at the Stadium of Light, but were denied by a combination of the woodwork and goalkeeper Simon Mignolet.
The Belgium international made three outstanding saves, from Yaya Toure and David Silva before the break and Sergio Aguero after it, and his efforts did not go unnoticed by the man at the opposite end of the pitch.
Hart said: “Simon Mignolet has had a magnificent game. He’s a brilliant goalkeeper, I have watched him closely in other games.
“Sunderland defended for their lives and it just wouldn’t go in for us.”
Hart himself had to get down superbly to turn away Steven Fletcher’s 25th-minute strike as Sunderland, having weathered an early storm, started to make an impact.
However, when the game’s decisive moment arrived, he was unable to prevent Johnson, who left City in the summer having found himself surplus to requirements, from stealing the headlines.
City were furious not to be awarded a free-kick for Craig Gardner’s challenge on Pablo Zabaleta immediately before Carlos Cuellar slipped the ball to the winger, and he cut inside and drilled a speculative effort towards the near post.
Mancini later absolved Hart of blame, although admitted he might have been anticipating a cross rather than a shot, but he could not get across his goal in time to prevent the ball from ending up in the bottom corner.
Hart said: “First and foremost, someone stamped on Zaba – it was a blatantly obvious foul – but what can you do?
“I was in my position for the shot, and that’s where you will see me again on Saturday.
“But he struck it well with just enough wobble to beat me.”