Sunderland 1 Manchester City 0
Or, alternatively: Manchester City 0 Manchester Disapora 1.
A victory delivered on Wearside had its foundations laid firmly in the Stretford End of English football’s self-proclaimed capital, as the Old Trafford old boys provided a timely reminded to the noisy neighbours — once a red, always a red.
You can take the boy out of the Theatre of Dreams, but not vice-versa, apparently. Phil Bardsley’s first-half goal nudged open the door to an unlikely result, one sealed by a compelling rearguard in which the Scotland international was once of three former Manchester United players in a back four that provided unstinting cover for the equally admirable Vito Mannone, the goalkeeper who marked his Premier League debut for the club with a scarcely-foreseen clean sheet.
A shock result, yes, but perhaps this scoreline was rather more predictable than that.
City are turning into notoriously bad travellers this season, having taken just four points from 18 on what could prove a road to title ruin.
Equally notable, this was their fourth consecutive single-goal defeat here, where they are without a victory for more than five years. Can we play you every week, chaps?
Try as they might, City couldn’t find a way past a Sunderland defence boasting some much needed added solidity thanks to a first league start in almost two years for Wes Brown. The 34-year-old’s knee may be past their sell-by date, but what he lacks in pace he makes up for in quickness of thought. Alongside his long-time United sparring partner John O’Shea, he was an immovable object against what had been up until yesterday the irresistible force of a City attack that had plundered 12 goals in its previous two games.
“Wes was the difference for us,” Gus Poyet, who has won three of his last four games, said. “I don’t know how he’s going to feel tonight, but at least he’s got time to recover during the international break. This is my best win as a manager and Wes played a massive part in that.”
Underlining his ubiquity, Brown played a significant role in the 21st-minute winner, Bardsley’s second in as many games, the first time the defender has managed such a goalscoring feat in his 10-year career.
Martin O’Neill described his Sunderland predecessor Paolo Di Canio as a managerial charlatan at the weekend, a view with which Bardsley would no doubt concur given the severity of his fall-out with the combustible Italian.
The full-back continued the successful rehabilitation of his relationship with supporters in the wake of openly mocking the club via social media during his Di Canio-enforced exile.
Brown’s searching ball from the back met the run of Bardsley down the hosts’ left, and when the full-back brushed-off the challenge of James Milner, he was left with time and space to break the deadlock from a narrow angle with a composed finish past Costel Pantilimon.
Of concern to Pellegrini is the unwanted consistency away from the Etihad Stadium. In the safe confines of home, it’s five wins from five in the league — anything but on their travels. “I’m concerned with the away form,” Pellegrini confessed. “We’re losing too many points away, and if you don’t win away that makes it difficult to fight for the Premier League.
“Saying that, I repeat that we’re not playing badly as a team.”
City carved out enough chances to prove they’re no away-team patsy, the most notable arriving before half-time, when Sergio Aguero, with nine goals in his previous six outings, met an Aleksandar Kolarov cross unmarked at the far post, only to head wide from inside the six-yard box with the goal at his mercy.
Alvaro Negredo sent looping header narrowly over from a cross by Jesus Navas, but Sunderland stood firm. Mannone, preferred to Keiren Westwood, cemented the shut-out by saving from Aguero.
Edin Dzeko and Kolarov both went close as Sunderland sealed a crucial win likely to have repercussions at both ends of the table in May.
SUNDERLAND (4-1-4-1) Mannone 9; Celustka 8, O’Shea 8, Brown 9, Bardsley 9; Ki 8; Johnson 7 (Borini 86, 5), Larsson 9, Colback 8, Giaccherini 7 (Gardner 71, 7); Fletcher 7 (Altidore 76, 7).
MANCHESTER CITY (4-4-2) Pantilimon 6; Richards 6 (Zabaleta 70, 5), Demichelis 5, Lescott 5, Kolarov 6; Milner 6, Toure 6, Garcia 5 (Navas 46, 6), Nasri 4; Negredo 5 (Dzeko 70, 6), Aguero 6.
Referee: Mike Dean 6.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved