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Sunderland 1 - 0 City: Five Thoughts

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A big opportunity missed. With City inactive yesterday they were able to sit back and watch key rivals all drop points unexpectedly, which, after stuttering of late presented them with an unlikely opportunity to once again establish a lead at the top of the Premier League table. It was not to be though, as City were caught with a sucker punch mere seconds from the end of injury time as they themselves hunted hard for a late winner. It was the second season in succession City fell to a late goal at Sunderland and started 2012 on a deflating note.

Did results from yesterday change the mindset? If United, Tottenham et al had all won then there would have been the necessity to achieve victory merely to keep pace at the top. Yesterdays results though may well have also convinced Roberto Mancini to make significant changes to the side. Out went David Silva, Sergio Aguero and the injured Mario Balotelli, but within five minutes of the second half both Aguero (at half-time) and Silva had been introduced by an unhappy Mancini. With the fixture list meaning the game against Liverpool was a mere forty-eight hours later, combined with the fact that so many others at the top were defeated may have resulted in the team looking a little past the Sunderland game.

Coming on the back of the frustrating afternoon at West Brom, another failure to get on the scoresheet inevitably raises questions. A lot can be made of the fact that City again were unable to score (the second game in succession being the first time since November 2010) but both in the West Brom game and moreso today City did not have an issue with either getting into position or creating opportunities. City had 84 final third entries (ranked 2nd this season), 27 chances (1st), 181/236 final third passes (3rd), 346/446 attacking half passes (4th) and 27 shots on goal (1st). The issue was that out of those 27 shots, only five were on target. Suddenly, that incisive and clinical streak is eluding them away from home.

It was a clearly irked Roberto Mancini who stalked the touchline in the second half and his displeasure was evidenced by how quickly he introduced both Aguero and Silva, with the recalled Nigel de Jong only lasting the first half, before making way for the Argentinian. One player who did last the full game was Adam Johnson, who has seen his opportunities restricted but got the start after a good performance at Stoke recently. Never one to quite earn the trust of Mancini, Johnson's performance was a disappointment. A bright enough first 45 minutes gave way at a largely anonymous showing after the break, which as per Ian Ladyman's tweet will hardly have endeared him to the Italian. Johnson has struggled to shake off being a player used either as an impact one late in the game or at home against lesser sides. With todays showing he still has some way to go to rid himself of that tag.

What is clear is that City at present have lost some momentum away from home. The verve and aura they have at The Etihad Stadium was also evident on the road earlier in the season but the past two games has seen them stutter and unable to get a vital win. In some ways this mirrors some of the frustration from the 2010/11 season when with an early goal they looked such a different side to the one who struggled to get ahead. For the most part this season it is the second half where they have got their goals but City have seen themselves stymied without an early goal as a cushion. Fortunately, for the moment at least, their home form remains exemplary but away from home City need to ensure that the past couple of games do not develop into a bigger issue.