31st March 2012
The season had promised so much, but the Manchester City title cart was shaking and threatening to come to a complete stop. The blues had lost at Swansea, beaten Chelsea and drawn at Stoke by the time Sunderland arrived in Manchester. City had won every match at home in the Premier League, but faced a Sunderland side that had beaten them in the last minute at the Stadium of Light on New Year’s Day.
City trailed leaders United by three points and could not afford to lose further ground to the reds. United had, on paper a much easier run in, although they still had to travel across Manchester to face City in April.
City started well and went close in the 8th minute as Simon Mignolet palmed away Aleksander Kolarov’s free kick after Mario Balotelli was brought down. Sunderland went close in the 16th minute after a sweeping move cut through the City defence and Mignolet then saved well from Edin Dzeko two minutes later.
The deadlock was broken in the 31st minute when Sebastian Larsson was given time on the edge of the box to shoot and he beat Joe Hart to give Sunderland the lead. In fairness to Hart, it looked like the ball nicked of Niklas Bendtnar on its way in, with the latter in an offside position, however the goal was given.
Four minutes before half time, City were level. Dzeko showed some great skill to get into the box before being brought down and the referee pointed straight to the spot. The blues had been denied a spot kick earlier when Balotelli was brought down but this time, the ref gave the foul despite Sunderland protests Dzeko dived. Balotelli took the kick and calmly stroked it home.
It was a short-lived celebration.
On the stroke of half-time, City conceded a free kick, which was then worked out to the right to Stephane Sessegnon, whose cross was met by the head of Bendtner to put the visitors ahead again and City went in at the break 2-1 down.
Whatever Roberto Mancini said to the players at half time didn’t work. On 55 minutes, Yaya Toure lost possession to Sessegnon, who charged forward and released Bendtner. His low cross ws met at the far post by Larsson who put Sunderland 3-1 up and City’s title assault was lying in ruins.
City were looking more like a team that was about to lose it’s head as they tried to claw their way back into the match but without much penetration of the Sunderland defence.
With five minutes remaining and City staring down the barrel, the blues were handed a lifeline, and it was a bit of Balotelli brilliance that ignited the spark. The Italian striker collected the ball on the left, cut inside the defender and unleashed a curling shot that flew past the keeper to make it 3-2. The watching Mancini didn’t even get up to celebrate the goal and those who had left the stadium early would soon regret their decision.
The blues worked the ball down the right and Milner’s cross was collected by Tevez, before finding its way to Kolarov thirty yards out. The Serbian then hit a low, powerful shot across goal and into the back of the goal for 3-3.
It was a vital goal for the blues in the race for the title, although the season would prove to have a few more twists before it finished.
Final Score: Manchester City 3-3 Sunderland