Manchester City 5 Sunderland 0
MANY have pointed to the January departure of Darren Bent to explain Sunderland’s sudden dip in fortunes.
It is true enough that in the eight games since Bent’s transfer to Aston Villa, Sunderland have lost six of those, goals have been hard to come by and the Black Cats’ new-look attack has failed to click.
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But, at Eastlands yesterday, the inclusion of Bent would have made absolutely no difference.
City were on top from the start, Sunderland were never in the game and the term ‘men against boys’ has rarely seemed more apt than in east Manchester yesterday afternoon.
The prospect of Sunderland qualifying for Europe seemed fanciful a fortnight ago. Today it is not even on the agenda.
The Black Cats’ season has now come down to a battle against their bitter rivals Newcastle for supremacy. And they’re losing that.
Adam Johnson and Carlos Tevez had City 2-0 up by 15 minutes, and while Sunderland still seemed in it at half-time, City’s David Silva, substitute Patrick Vieira and Yaya Toure put the game completely out of sight after the interval.
It would have been six if it wasn’t for a superb late save by Simon Mignolet from Mario Balotelli’s free-kick.
As far as starts go, it would be an understatement to say that Sunderland were somewhat sluggish coming out of the blocks.
There were, however, mitigating factors. In Michael Turner and John Mensah, Sunderland had a central-defensive pair that had not played together since November’s 2-0 victory over Stoke.
Injury to Titus Bramble in the days leading up to the game forced Steve Bruce to throw Turner straight back into action.
The former Hull City defender had not kicked a ball for Sunderland since the 2-2 draw against Everton in November.
Turner’s inclusion, Bramble’s exclusion and the subsequent confusion that followed was all too evident.
The pair were all at sea for the first goal, Johnson exchanging passes with Yaya Toure before ghosting into Sunderland’s box, in between the stationary Turner and the recovering Phil Bardsley, and drilling low past Mignolet.
There was to be no respite.
Turner seemed to make a legitimate challenge on Silva upfield, and before he had the chance to return to his position, City took the quick freekick, Silva floated a pass to Tevez which, instead of making the challenge, Mensah watched the Argentinian waltz by and collide with Bardsley – which, replays showed, to be after the City striker had got his shot off.
Sunderland’s protests fell on deaf ears, and Tevez stepped up – much like he did in the same fixture last year – and slotted home. Mignolet was unlucky not to save it, the Belgian managing to get a hand to the shot before it squirmed in off the post.
City’s 2-0 lead last year was soon cancelled out by a revitalised Sunderland, but there seemed to be no response this time around. In fact, the Black Cats seemed shellshocked by the deficit, struggling to control the ball at times - Jordan Henderson the chief offender early on.
It could have been even worse for Sunderland had Webb seen a blatant handball by Turner under pressure from Balotelli on 28 minutes. Luckily for the centre-half, his paw away from the Italian was unseen by the Rotherham official.
Sunderland were not without their chances. Vincent Kompany had to be at his acrobatic best on the half-hour to get a diving head to the ball ahead of Danny Welbeck, who was bearing in on goal.
And Asamoah Gyan, Joe Hart and Joleon Lescott’s chief tormentor on Tuesday night at Wembley, had Hart sprawling again when he tipped up and volleyed just wide of the England goalkeeper’s right-hand post.
At 2-0, Sunderland performances of old have indicated that they would put up a fight.
At least. But you could count the decent performances from Sunderland’s players on one hand. Possibly even one finger.
An improved second half display just did not happen. Instead, City picked up the pace, and left Sunderland trailing in their tracks. Ahmed Elmohamady was brought into the fray as replacement for the outof- sorts Bardsley, but City began to turn the screw again 10 minutes into the second half.
Johnson’s volley from Silva’s lobbed through-ball was judged to be offside, while a minute later, Balotelli wrestled clear of Mensah and fired a shot against Mignolet.
The ineffective Henderson was replaced on the hour by Bolo Zenden, but the game was ended as a contest minutes later as City doubled their score.
On 63 minutes, Tevez sprinted past Mensah, cut the ball back to Balotelli, whose shot crept through Turner’s legs and Silva popped up to slot past Mignolet.
Three minutes later, Vieira was brought on for Johnson, in a move which would have seen City slot into a more defensive outlook. However, it was the Frenchman who made it four – with his first touch – after Aleksandar Kolarov drilled a pass across the box. Mignolet was unlucky as he made the save, but the ball was a yard over the line.
Mancini’s City were not finished.
Balotelli fired in a shot on 70 minutes which the Belgian goalkeeper did well to paw out, but there was nothing he could do about City’s fifth. Kolo Toure carved through Mensah and Elmohamady and lifted his shot over Mignolet.
It was game over at three.
This was just torture.
Tevez spurned a chance to make it six on 82 minutes, substitute Shaun Wright-Phillips’s cross diverted just past the post by the Argentinian.
A minute later, Sunderland enjoyed – if that’s appropriate – their best chance of the game when Zenden’s deep free-kick was headed just wide by Elmohamady.
Mignolet was one of Sunderland’s better performers. The last touch of the game was the Belgian’s, responding superbly to tip Balotelli’s free-kick over the bar.
Consider what it would have been like had he been off his game.