Apr 16, 2014, 4:52 PM EST
A late goal from Samir Nasri gave Manchester City a point from a match Connor Wickham had temporarily stolen, but after the teams’ 2-2 draw at Etihad Stadium, Sunderland had dealt the Citizens a major blow in their title pursuit. Still six points behind league-leading Liverpool, Manchester City failed to take advantage of one of their two games in hand, with their remaining advantage from their fewer games played sitting pale in comparison to the gap between first and third.
Manchester City went up in the second minute through Fernandinho, giving an early impression that Wednesday’s game would be a City cruise. For the next 71 minutes, only scattered half-chances for the Black Cats hinted Sunderland would compete, though an often disorganized City defense continued to give the league’s last place club a path back into the match.
In the 73rd minute, after a cross from Emanuele Giaccherini found him open at the far post, Wickham’s first goal of the night seized that opportunity, with a second score 10 minutes later leaving the Black Cats within minutes of a shock upset. Two minutes before full-time, however, a Nasri shot through the hands of Vito Mannone trickled over Sunderland’s goal line, allowing City to salvage a 2-2 result.
It remains to be seen whether that point will even matter. Six points back with one game in hand, Manchester City is no longer in position to take advantage of a potential slip when Chelsea visits Anfield on April 27. Instead, Chelsea become sLiverpool’s main title contenders, with a lackadaisical City left hoping more missteps from the top two can bring the team back into the title race.
At the other end of the table, Sunderland gets a point it wasn’t expecting, pulling within six of safety. With a match in hand and a five-game losing streaked snapped, the Black Cats, buoyed by the result, have reason to think an improbable survival run is possible.
Having never won at the Etihad, Sunderland’s fortunes were brightened early, with Manuel Pellergini selecting a team without Yaya Touré and David Silva. Touré, removed early on Sunday against Liverpool, is out for two weeks. While Silva’s absence was without explanation, a lingering ankle problems on the back of a short turnaround likely left the Spanish playmaker on the sidelines.
Two minutes after kick off, those absences appeared to be irrelevant, with a turnover forced by Álvaro Negredo producing an early opener. Dispossessing Lee Cattermole, Negredo poked the ball to Sergio Agüero, who eventually found Fernandinho bolting into the right of Sunderland’s area. A near-post finish past Mannone gave the hosts an early 1-0 lead.
Sunderland nearly equalized four minutes later on a restart from the right, but John O’Shea‘s header from 10 yards out went wide. Another chance created for Fabio Borini left the Italian alone in front of Joe Hart to the right of goal. The Liverpool loanee’s shot sailed out of play, leaving the teams destined to go into halftime 1-0.
A more controlling Manchester City came out for the second half — an unmotivated but oppressive grip that seemed to eliminate the slim chances Sunderland was able to muster in the first 45 minutes. As Pellegrini removed Agüero (57th minute) and Negredo (69th), a slight arrogance started to appear in City’s approach, one that made the lack of a second goal even more important.
In the 73rd minute, City’s lack of urgency came back to haunt them. On play built down the left side, Marcos Alonso found Giaccherini on a run through the left channel. Chipping the ball far post just before the byline, the Italian midfielder found Wickham alone inside the six-yard box, the easy tap-in into an empty goal bringing Sunderland even.
Ten minutes later, it was Giaccherini providing for Wickham again, giving the Black Cats an unlikely lead. Putting the young striker behind City’s increasingly suspect defense, Giaccherini allowed Wickham to go in alone on Hart, with a slow reaction from the City keeper toward his left post allowing the Sunderland forward his second goal of the match.
With Agüero and Negredo out of the game, City initially struggled to muster a response. In the 88th minute, however, the team received some help from the opposing keeper. On a low shot toward Mannone’s feet by Nasri, City were able to equalize, with pair of soft hands from the Sunderland keeper allowing Nasri’s shot to inch over the goal line.
Minutes later, Nasri had a chance for an equalizer from a near-identical spot before putting his shot into the crowd. Left drawn 2-2, City were sent to the locker room to consider their new, diminished title relevance, while Sunderland may have rekindled hope it can find a path to survival.
Manchester City: Hart, Zabaleta, Kompany, Dimechelis, Kolarov, Milner, Garcia, Fernandinho (Rodwell 87′), Nasri, Aguero (Jovetic 57′), Negredo (Dzeko 69′)
Goals: Fernandinho (2′), Nasri (88′)
Sunderland: Mannone, Vergini, Alonso, Brown, O’Shea, Cattermole, Colback, Larsson (Giaccherini 68′), Johnson, Morini (Scocco 69′), Wickham
Goals: Wickham (73′, 83′)
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