Manchester City were meant to have a mental block when it came to the Stadium of Light, but someone clearly forgot to let Sergio Aguero know.
The Argentinian continued his rich vein of form, scoring twice before being withdrawn to spare the out-classed hosts further punishment as Manuel Pellegrini’s side won with something to spare.
The defending champions recovered from going behind to Connor Wickham’s early goal as they cruised to a fourth consecutive victory. Aguero, who is almost unplayable in this kind of form, and Stevan Jovetic put them ahead before the break, with Pablo Zabaleta claiming the third and Aguero rounding off the rout.
“It’s very important to be an attractive, offensive team for the fans,” said Pellegrini last night.
Sunderland had frustrated leaders Chelsea, holding them to a stalemate in their previous home game. But they had no answer against a City side who maintained the six-point deficit on Jose Mourinho’s men thanks to seventh victory in their last 11 league games.
A different outcome looked possible as the hosts were rewarded for a bright opening by taking a 19th minute lead thanks to the determination and persistence of Wickham.
Pablo Zabaleta had already hacked a goal-bound effort from ex-City midfielder Jack Rodwell off the line, when Wickham sprinted onto Seb Larsson’s return pass into the area. Zabaleta was fractionally first to the ball, but the defender’s attempted clearance cannoned off the forward and beyond Joe Hart from 10 yards.
Sunderland’s hopes of recording a Premier League record-equalling fifth consecutive 1-0 home win over City lasted less than two minutes.
Jovetic combined with Fernandinho to thread a pass through to Aguero, who easily beat Sebastian Coates, the on-loan Liverpool defender making his Premier League debut for Sunderland.
Surging into the area, Aguero unleashed a powerful right-foot drive from 16 yards that sped beyond Costel Pantilimon and into the net at the former Manchester City keeper’s near post. With City’s stranglehold on the contest increasing, they took the lead six minutes before the interval in a role reversal, Aguero provider for Jovetic.
Yaya Toure launched the move deep inside Sunderland’s half with a ball into the area to Aguero, whose deft flick eluded John O’Shea and sat up perfectly for Jovetic to fire his fourth goal of the season past Pantilimon from 12 yards.
The hosts were hampered by the loss through injury of Steven Fletcher early in the second half, after the Scotland forward suffered a back injury in a challenge with Dedryck Boyata, the centre-back deputising for the injured Vincent Kompany.
Any hopes of Sunderland forcing their way back into the contest were extinguished when Zabaleta claimed City’s third goal with his first appearance on the scoresheet since April 10 minutes into the second-half.
The full-back found himself on the edge of the Sunderland area, exchanging passes with Samir Nasri to engineer a clear run through on Pantilimon, who he beat with a calm chip from a narrow angle.
City’s first win on Wearside in five attempts spanning six years was complete in the 71st minutes. Substitute James Milner was allowed time to send over a cross from the right, and Aguero lost his marker Santiago Vergini to sweep home the fourth from close range, his eighth in seven games.
The South American was denied a third hat-trick of the season when he was replaced by Frank Lampard for the final 15 minutes, no doubt to save his energies for tasks more testing than that posed by the outclassed hosts.
SUNDERLAND (4-1-4-1) Pantilimon 4; Vergini 3, O’Shea 4, Coates 3, Reveillere 4; Cattermole 4; Buckley 3, Larsson 4, Rodwell 3, Wickham 7 (Alvarez 67, 4); Fletcher 4 (Altidore 55, 4).
MANCHESTER CITY (4-2-3-1) Hart 7; Zableta 8, Demichelis 7, Boyata 7, Clichy 7; Fernandinho 7, Toure 7; Navas 7, Nasri 7 (Pozo 83, 6) , Jovetic 7 (Milner 56, 7); Aguero 8 (Lampard 74, 6).
Referee: Craig Pawson (Sheffield) 7.