Manchester City captain Vincent Kompany defiantly insists title-race nerves are not getting to his team-mates.
March proved a costly month for Roberto Mancini’s men with a defeat at Swansea and frustrating draws against Stoke and Sunderland handing the initiative to rivals Manchester United.
City could, at least temporarily, have returned to the top of the table yesterday, but their failure to see off the Black Cats means United could move five points clear tomorrow.
The situation might even have been worse had City not at least produced a late rally to snatch a 3-3 draw against the Wearsiders with two goals in the closing five minutes.
Kompany said on City TV: “It was not a good performance and we didn’t do enough to win the game.
“It is not nerves – there is nobody in the team who has not been in this situation before in another league.
“So, it wasn’t nerves, we didn’t do enough.”
City do still have to play United in an eagerly-anticipated derby on April 30 but, with just seven games remaining, they now need favours from other teams.
They will hope relegation-threatened Blackburn can provide one as they host the champions at Ewood Park tomorrow night.
Kompany will not give up hope even if he does not want to watch United himself.
The 25-year-old said: “I don’t really look at United’s games with much interest.
“The reality is it is not in our hands anymore. For us to get back in the race for the title we need other teams to take points away from United and we (need to) finish the job when we play them at Eastlands.
“That is the reality of what is happening now. We will keep believing, definitely. It is just not as easy as it was before.”
City’s frustration appeared evident yesterday when, before their late fightback, striker Mario Balotelli and defender Aleksandar Kolarov argued over who should take a free-kick.
Kompany had to push Balotelli away, but the Belgian wanted to downplay the incident.
He said: “I think ultimately people will always comment and make the wrong opinions.
“It is a passion game, a high-tension game. Ultimately we just wanted to win and score goals. That is what it is all about.”
City were stunned when Sunderland took the lead with a tidy finish from Sebastian Larsson just after the half hour.
They replied with a Balotelli penalty after Edin Dzeko was controversially ruled to have been upended by Craig Gardner.
That incident had not been forgotten when, moments later, a row broke out between Dzeko and Phil Bardsley and Balotelli found himself in the unlikely role of peacemaker.
But Sunderland were unruffled and regained the lead on the stroke of half-time with a firm header from Nicklas Bendtner and Larsson slid in his second early in the second period.
It was not until the closing stages that City finally stirred as the otherwise mostly ineffective Balotelli cut in on the edge of the box to clip in a fine goal and Kolarov smashed in another seconds later.
Kompany said: “It is a shame it came so late – we showed good stuff in the end.
“Ultimately we didn’t get beat but I am sure every single person in the stadium will feel as if we are disappointed for this game.”
The influential Kompany was returning after a four-game absence with a calf injury and at least came through unscathed.
He said: “For me, all that counts is for the team to win and we didn’t do that. There is a feeling of wanting more.”
City have other injury problems to consider ahead of next week’s trip to Arsenal with top scorer Sergio Aguero still out for an unspecified period with a mystery foot problem.
Mancini again refused to elaborate much on the nature of that injury yesterday, but did appear to confirm it had been exacerbated by a treatment spray.
There was also some confusion over the reason for midfielder Samir Nasri’s absence against Sunderland, but the player did tweet before kick-off that he was out injured.