Sunderland 1 Manchester City 0: Mark Douglas' match analysis

The Stadium of Light has borne witness to a messiah and a revolution since August of 2010, but some things remain reassuringly constant on Wearside

Wes Brown in action for Sunderland against Manchester City
Wes Brown in action for Sunderland against Manchester City

The Stadium of Light has borne witness to a messiah and a revolution since August of 2010, but some things remain reassuringly constant on Wearside.

The revolution was quelled and Martin O’Neill the messiah proved a false prophet, but through it all Sunderland have maintained their annual tradition of beating Manchester City 1-0.

Yesterday was the fourth such win in succession and given all that has happened since Darren Bent downed the newly-minted Citizens three and a half years ago it is a quite incredible tradition for the Black Cats to have maintained.

Wins over Manchester City now account for 15% of the home league wins Sunderland have managed since August 2010.

That is four of the 26 victories chiselled out by the home side on Wearside – an amazing statistic given the steadily-improving calibre of the sides City are bringing north.

Not quite as remarkable as the identity of the match winners, though.

You would have got long odds on Sunderland’s casino kid playing in red and white again over the summer but Phil Bardsley’s winning goal was another big win for Gus Poyet – the man who brought him in from the cold. The ball arrived at his boot via Wes Brown, 19 months out of the professional game.

The veteran defender was immaculate here, fully justifying John O’Shea’s assertion he might be the difference between Sunderland maintaining their Premier League status and dropping into the Championship.

For all that the scoreline had a familiar feel, there was something different about this win.

While Martin O’Neill’s Sunderland defended with intensity and Steve Bruce’s Black Cats enjoyed a share of luck, Poyet’s class of 2013 matched their moneyed rivals pass-for-pass during an uplifting first half.

For half of an engaging contest this was the new-look Sunderland at full pelt, man-of-the-match Brown and O’Shea starting the trend of the Black Cats passing from the back as they carved City open to create a slew of clear cut chances.

This is the Poyet philosophy which caught the eye at Brighton and the initial signs are it has been successfully transplanted to Wearside.

Poyet said: “This is probably the biggest win of my career,.

“I know for the fans and the club in terms of its history, it is always more important to beat your biggest rivals.

“That’s the one you have to win, but in terms of the opposition, the quality and the number of world-class players this has to be the biggest win of my career.”

It was also vindication for Poyet, who has had to fast-track a style of football which takes years to perfect in a matter of weeks. Sunderland are still struggling to assimilate at times – and there was violent gesticulation from the dugout as they sat penned in their box aimlessly smacking the ball away from danger in those final stages – but they are beginning to get the hang of it.

The man in front of the defence – Ki – was precise and crisp in his passing. Jack Colback and Sebastien Larsson, completely reborn under Poyet, were equally smart and concise in possession.

Yet it was at the back, where Sunderland are no longer looking to hit the channels earlier, Poyet has added a dash of composure.

There is a still a long, long way to go but Sunderland at last have a foot-hold. Belief is building and Poyet reasoned afterwards: “I am so pleased for the players.

“They have to believe. You can say things and talk about things, but at the end of the day it is the players on the pitch who have to be convinced this new way of playing football and defending is working.”

Sunderland also required a dash of fortune and a quick start to cash their yearly Sky Blue dividend.

For all Larsson was the purveyor of so much positive in Sunderland’s performance, he was lucky to escape serious punshment for a late and reckless challenge on Javi Garcia.

Mike Dean missed that but he was right about Bardsley’s challenge on Milner as Sunderland sprung an effective counter-attack to take the lead.

Brown carved open the visiting defence with a raking left-footed pass and the defender brushed off Milner’s attempt to block him before cutting inside and dispatching with a slick shot into the bottom corner of Costel Pantilimon’s goal.

City bit back. Sergio Aguero headed over – somehow – from a few yards out while Bardsley was in the right place to block Jesus Navas’ effort at the start of the second half.

Vito Mannone, preferred to Keiren Westwood, tipped Aguero’s shot around the post.

For anyone who doubted the importance of Brown to Sunderland’s cause, here was proof he remains one of the classiest defenders in the Premier League on his day.

He was poise personified as City piled forward, blocking everything.

It is no exagerration to say Sunderland’s prospects for the rest of the season are going to be closely allied to the state of his 34-year-old knees.

By the end, possession was almost exclusively Manchester City’s.

They threw cross after cross into the area but Sunderland stood firm, the former Manchester United pairing at the heart of a stout effort.

A final corner was flicked into the box in the closing stages but Joleon Lescott, under pressure from you-know-who, nodded wide.

An ecstatic Poyet turned to the crowd and drunk it in. The Stadium of Light fizzed with excitement.

He said: “I don’t know how my heart is at the minute. I don’t want to check it in case it is bad news, but it’s going to be a great evening.

“Three hours ago, when I looked at that table it was awful and we were playing Man City.”

As he now knows, that is as close as it gets to a home banker for Sunderland in the Premier League era.

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