It didn’t start too well for Sunderland even before kick-off with the news that Lee Cattermole would miss the game through injury, joining Liam Bridcutt on the sidelines. In came former City man Jack Rodwell, while Will Buckley replaced Steven Fletcher allowing Connor Wickham a chance in the middle.
Wickham, however, was left isolated in the first half with barely any Sunderland bodies getting forward in attack. That said, by sitting deep, although inviting the City pressure, Sunderland’s back line remained organised and held their shape restricting City to the occasional long range effort. Yaya Toure and Samir Nasri both saw efforts sail over the bar while Pantilimon was tested twice from the wing by, firstly, a low Navas cross-shot, then a David Silva curler needed to be punched away with the Romanian at full stretch.
Sunderland’s best chance came after a brilliant tackle from Jack Rodwell on Nasri, leaving the Frenchman and home crowd stunned that he didn’t get the decision, which saw Jordi Gomez break forward only to be hacked down just outside the area. Up steps Seb Larsson, who beautifully curled an effort round the wall, only for Caballero to turn it behind.
The typical zombie-esque atmosphere at the Etihad, with empty seats all over the place, summed up the first half, with City frustrated and Sunderland the happier of the sides at the break.
The second half picked up right where it left off with City’s pressure easily dealt with by the visitors. Until, that is, Yaya Toure unleashed yet another belter from outside the area. Even Pantilimon at full stretch couldn’t reach it, and City finally made the breakthrough.
With Giaccherini preparing to enter the action moments earlier, the Italian then replaced Jordi Gomez and instantly increased Sunderland’s threat.
However, the desire to attack ultimately left Sunderland more exposed at the back, and City got their second when Gael Clichy found space down the left to play into Stevan Jovetic from five yards out to flick the ball past Pantilimon.
The two goal cushion only lasted two minutes however, with Giaccherini winning a corner after a teasing effort from 15 yards. The brilliant Larsson delivery was met by a fantastic leap from Jack Rodwell to out jump his marker, and John O’Shea, to flick the ball past the static Caballero.
Game on, but it was City who responded next, with only the post saving Sunderland, after Jesus Navas’ effort from a tight angle beat Pantilimon.
At the other end, Ricky Alvarez, recently introduced for Buckley, drove into the City box from the wing, and his lashed cross was deflected away by the City ‘keeper, but only as far as Billy Jones. The temporary left back picked it up and drove forward, and managed to nick the ball ahead of Zabaleta, whose attempted clearance took down Jones.
Referee East, who was booed off at the break, didn’t make too many friends inside the Etihad giving a penalty, despite the correct decision, and Adam Johnson stepped up. Banishing memories of that miss at Old Trafford, Johnson sent the keeper the wrong way and made it 2-2, with two former City players getting on the score sheet.
It wasn’t to last and two minutes later Gael Clichy’s cross was met by Frank Lampard, introduced with the score at 2-1, who headed beyond Pantilimon. With Wes Brown not tight enough it was too easy for the former Chelsea man, who could’ve had a hat-trick after two great chances late on.
That was the end of Sunderland’s fight back, with the tiredness catching up as City grew in confidence. Fernandinho, Lampard, Toure and Milner were all guilty of wasting chances, with a handful forcing great saves from Pantilimon.
There wasn’t enough left in the tank to snatch another equaliser before the final whistle but the fight back and overall performance leaves plenty for Sunderland to be proud of, and proves we can actually find the back of the net from time to time.