Only Sunderland can play like this and not win.
Only Sunderland can put so much into a game, take a point, and still be massive favourites to be relegated.
Only Sunderland could say with sincerity that if they played Manchester City, officially the world’s best paid team, every week they would be challenging for the Champions League.
Gus Poyet just might yet pull off a near miracle. The odds are still mightily stacked against them, but last night made you believe something astonishingly unlikely might happen.
Here’s the thing. Sunderland deserved to win.
Had there been more composure and belief, they would have been more than a goal ahead when City scored their late equaliser.
Connor Wickham nabbed a double in a comeback as unlikely as the one which occurred at the Etihad Stadium two years ago.
A point was more than was expected. It’s probably not enough.
Gus Poyet must wonder about his team. They can be utterly dreadful one week but here, against a genuinely good side and a goal down, they played with spirit, adventure and looked a threat going forward every time.
What an odd bunch.
City missed the world-class Yaya Toure and David Silva, both injured and they will now probably not win the league.
Yet it took City a grand total of one minute and 53 seconds to break past the Wearsiders.
Lee Cattermole dallied on the ball and was robbed too easily Alvara Negredo. He passed to Sergio Aguero, who slipped a ball, dummied by Negredo, through to Fernandinho.
There was a tragic inevitability about the way the midfielder finished off the move with a side-foot ed shot which beat Vito Mannone at his near post.
This was Cattermole’s 200th Premier League appearance. Not the way he would have want to have marked such a landmark.
Sunderland actually should have been equal after six minutes had passed.
A free-kick near the right wing was taken well by Adam Johnson, a high ball which took out City’s first few defenders and John O’Shea had what looked to have a clear header which he couldn’t get on target from a distance of six yards.
The Irishman is better than that and even he couldn’t believe he had missed.
City came close to a second on ten minutes. Sergio Aguero was allowed time and space, as if he needs either, to send a fierce dipping shot which Mannone palmed into the Manchester air. Pablo Zabaleta headed into Fernandinho’s path, but on this occasion he was wild with his effort.
Sunderland again attacked and won a corner 60 seconds later.
Seb Larsson sent his cross to the back post and this time O’Shea jumped well and got in a solid header, but the ball sailed over.
Still the men from Wearside came forward as if they had nothing to lose, which in all honesty they didn’t.
For all that City are great going forward, their defence isn’t great. Sunderland opened them up on 18 minutes when a lovely chipped pass by Johnson found Fabio Borini, who had rather easily got behind the blue back four and stayed onside.
He took a touch, spun around and then sent his shot across goal and wide.
There was an odd moment after 28 minutes when Wes Brown caught Aguero with a meaty challenge, which referee Martin Atkinson and his linesman completely missed.
As everyone in blue, both on the pitch and in the stand, looked for a foul, play was allowed to rage on and Borini wasn’t far away with a low drive from the edge of the box.
Three minutes before the break, Aguero was looking for a penalty which was never going to come as he collapsed under a nothing challenge.
A small sign not all was right within the City team and their fans began to grow anxious. Or at least more anxious than they imagined the evening would be.
Samir Nasri attempted to allay some of those fears in first-half injury time with a shot that was well hit if not on target.
Sunderland came out after the break with purpose.
Johnson, who had a good night, sped past Aleksandar Kolarov and put in a low cross nobody could get on the end of.
The lack of class in the final third told too many times.
A prime example of this came just after an hour. Larsson had the ball close to the City 18-yard line when all he did was send a hopeful chip over the byline when there were options available to him.
Emmanuel Gianccherini and Ignacio Socco were introduced on 67 minutes as Poyet opted to go for it. The changes made a big difference.
Then came Sunderland’s best opportunity so far on 72 minutes.
Johnson showed good awareness to slip his pass through a gap which Jack Colback spotted, he was through on Joe Hart, but on the weak right foot and that meant his effort went straight at the goalkeeper.
That was it. That was Sunderland’s moment. Wasn’t it? Erm, no.
Before we knew it, Gianccherini was scampering down the left wing, his cross was perfect and Connor Wickham tapped home on the full from a yard out.
Then something incredible happened on 83 minutes.
City were attacking and then they weren’t.
Instead of the potential league winners pressing, they were chasing Gianccherini who was on the counter.
Wickham made a great run and his team-mate picked out the striker with a great pass. Wickham took a touch and then buried his shot past Hart.
Football, though, is one cruel mistress. With just one minute of normal time to go, Nasrishot, Mannone got his fingertips to it, the ball looked as if it was staying out, then not, then it seemed as if the goalkeeper would get his hand to it. Then he didn’t.
At 2-2, Nasri then missed a sitter. Only Sunderland can have nights like this.