MARTIN O'Neill last night hit back at Roberto Mancini's assertion that Sunderland were 'lucky' to have put a further dent in to Manchester City's hopes of retaining the Premier League title.
The Black Cats climbed up to 13th and seven points clear of the relegation zone courtesy of Adam Johnson's 53rd minute winner against his old club at the Stadium of Light.
It was a victory well received and deserved from a Sunderland point of view, but Mancini felt his Manchester City team deserved more and accused referee Kevin Friend of eating too much over Christmas.
The Italian said: “Sunderland are very lucky against us at home. You can create 15 to 20 chances like this every year and in the end you lose the game. They are very lucky against us.”
But O'Neill disagreed, suggesting Sunderland's performance – which included greater scoring opportunities than what City created – fully warranted a second successive win to ease worries of dropping in to the bottom three.
He said: “Considering the opposition, I would have to say that was our best performance of the season.
“We took a bit of confidence from winning at Southampton into this game. There were times when you have to play without the ball and there are times when you need to defend stoutly – we did both of them.”
He added: “I’m genuinely not bothered about what Mancini says. I have seen it before with other managers. I thought we were terrific. We had the more presentable chances. I don’t think anyone would disagree with that.
“Manchester City are a terrific team. I’m told this is the first time that City haven’t won when Carlos Tevez and Sergio Aguero have started together. So it was a great effort by us.”
During what was expected to be a difficult period Sunderland have now won three of their last four matches and head in to Saturday's visit of Tottenham knowing three more points could lift them up to tenth.
“There is a long way to go yet,” said O'Neill, who also led Sunderland to a 1-0 win over City on New Year's Day. “This gives us some points and a day or two to rest now. We have tough games against Tottenham and Liverpool (January 2), and maybe this will be seen as a bonus.
“I looked at the side we had last New Year, we didn’t have any options, so that was a great performance. But in terms of how we played, I thought we looked decent. The players showed a lot of confidence.”
Johnson was the goalscorer – he now has three since his switch from Manchester City – but there were also a number of other brilliant displays to see Sunderland over the line against the champions.
O'Neill said: “We had to make a change before the game because John O’Shea was ill. So Matt Kilgallon came in and, while we had one or two problems at certain stages of the game, we coped with it.
“I also thought both wingers were magnificent. James McClean was truly terrific, both offensively and defensively. He is getting back to that sort of form after a pretty difficult time when everyone was talking about second season syndrome.
“Adam is starting to show some of the form that we know he is capable of. He did look a bit stunned that he’d scored. I must admit I wasn’t sure myself until I heard the roar of the crowd. Adam was in my way so I couldn’t see!”
Manchester United's victory over Newcastle – who have now dropped below Sunderland – means the Red Devils are now seven points clear in the race to wrestle the Premier League crown back to Old Trafford.
But Mancini, angry the referee didn't give a foul on Pablo Zabaleta from Craig Gardner in the build up to the winning goal, is in no mood to concede defeat despite suffering a third consecutive 1-0 defeat at Sunderland.
He said: “Sunderland are a bit of a bogey team for us here. Next year, we won’t come! Johnson was really clever because we all thought he was going to cross. Instead, he shot. He did very well. I do not think Joe Hart was at fault.
“United are better than us but it can change. They are on the top but we have the time to recover. Seven points are no problem.”
Asked about the free-kick which was not awarded when Gardner left Zabaleta on the floor, Mancini said: “The referee ate too much for Christmas. He was not in good form. But that can happen after Christmas when they have a performance like that.”
* Sunderland are offering season card holders a chance to purchase additional under-16s tickets for just £1 for Saturday's lunch-time kick-off with Tottenham.
Non-season card holders can also take advantage of the special offer when purchasing a full-price adult ticket. Adult tickets are priced from £27 and under-16s from just £1.