February 2016 - Reports
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Liverpool 1 Manchester City 1     Cabillero Wins Penalty Shoot Out
Sunday 28th February 2016

When the penalties were done, a fifth trophy had been added to Manchester City's collection from the Abu Dhabi era, Yaya Touré was twirling his shirt on his personal victory run and a swarm of photographers was heading for Willy Caballero. Caballero's selection had been risky after his erratic performances as Joe Hart's understudy but it was his goalkeeping that meant the first silverware of the season would be heading to Manchester and those were the moments when we saw why Manuel Pellegrini had placed his trust in him.

Caballero could not keep out Emre Can's impudent little pitch-wedge to get the penalties underway but thereafter he was unbeatable, diving to his left to turn away a decent attempt by Lucas Leiva, a hesitant one from Philippe Coutinho, and then the other way to beat out Adam Lallana's effort for his third successive save. Fernandinho had struck the post with City's first penalty but Jesús Navas and Sergio Agüero were both on target and when Touré buried the next attempt it decided the game without having to go to Wilfried Bony and James Milner for the final round.

Liverpool, trying to win this competition for a ninth time, had already beaten Carlisle United and Stoke City this way, but while Caballero was hoisted on to the players’ shoulders, with the Wembley arch illuminated in blue and white and Daniel Sturridge reduced to tears, the final will be remembered as a personal ordeal for Simon Mignolet bearing in mind the unremarkable shot from Fernandinho that opened the scoring.

It was a wretched goal to concede and the unfortunate truth for Mignolet is that moment reminded us why many Liverpool supporters are perplexed he has been awarded a new five-year contract. Mignolet made some fine saves either side of that mistake but, unfortunately for him, they will quickly be forgotten in the context of the one he let through his arms.

Ahead early in the second half, City should probably have been spared extra time but for some poor officiating and their own wastefulness given the number of chances they passed up to make it 2-0. Raheem Sterling had a difficult day against his former club and turned the ball wide with two golden opportunities, the first from six yards out, and there was another reprieve for Liverpool when Agüero ran into the penalty area and Alberto Moreno flicked out his leg to bring him down. It was a clear penalty and the referee Michael Oliver's decision to wave play on was bewildering, to say the least, with potentially serious ramifications for City when Coutinho equalised in the 83rd minute with Liverpool's first shot on target.

Until that point Liverpool had seen plenty of the ball without making enough use of it to examine whether Caballero might be vulnerable. Pellegrini had stayed true to his word – “I'd rather lose a final than my word,” he said afterwards – and resisted any temptation to bring Hart into his team but Liverpool threatened only sporadically in the opening hour and Vincent Kompany's considerable presence helped to ensure Caballero was well protected for the most part. Coutinho's goal came on the rebound, after two of the substitutes had linked up and Lallana turned Divock Origi's low cross against the post, but Kompany was excellent and Caballero's fine work was not all reserved to the shootout. In extra time, there was a key save from Origi's header.

Midway through the opening half Liverpool had lost Mamadou Sakho, replaced by Kolo Touré after clashing heads with Can and clearly distraught that the club's medical staff would not let him play on. That meant Touré teaming up with Lucas in the centre of Liverpool's defence and if that gave their back four a slightly vulnerable look there was only one moment in the first half when City put together a move that exposed their opponents. On that occasion Mignolet turned Agüero’s shot against the post. It was one of several fine saves but that is part of the Mignolet conundrum – outstanding at times but far too error-prone.

Manchester City's Manuel Pellegrini calls stand-in goalkeeper Willy Caballero a hero after the Capital One Cup win and says fans should trust his tactics as manager for the rest of the season

Four minutes into the second half City had the ball on the left when David Silva lofted a long, crossfield pass over to Agüero on the opposite side. Agüero held up play, waiting for Fernandinho to overlap on the right and there did not seem to be a great deal of danger for Mignolet when the shot came in. Fernandinho made a clean connection but the ball was not struck with venomous pace and the Brazilian was taking aim from a difficult angle.

Mignolet appeared to have it covered but the shot somehow found a gap, somewhere between his knees and gloves, that should not have existed. The collective groan from Liverpool’s supporters when the mistake was replayed on the large screens told the rest of the story.

In fairness to Mignolet, he did not let it affect him throughout the rest of the match, denying the impressive Yaya Touré a winner approaching the 90th -minute mark and keeping out Agüero when the Argentinian burst through in the first period of extra time. Agüero was a constant menace, with Fernandinho excelling in his new position on the right, but City were starting to look ragged in the final quarter of an hour.

They might still have spared themselves a nerve-shredding finale if Agüero had been able to turn James Milner's misplaced header beyond Mignolet but it went to a contest from 12 yards, three saved penalties, Liverpool's first shootout defeat in six finals when it has reached that stage – and Caballero's finest moments in City's colours.

Teams
Liverpool: Mignolet, Clyne, Lucas, Sakho (K Toure 24), Moreno (Lallana 72), Can, Henderson, Milner, Firmino (Origi 79), Coutinho, Sturridge
Unused subs: Bogdan, Benteke, Allen, Flanagan    Bookings:Clyne, Moreno, Can, Coutinho

Manchester City: Caballero, Sagna (Zabaleta 91), Kompany, Otamendi, Clichy, Fernando (Navas 91), Fernandinho, Toure, Silva (Bony 109), Sterling, Aguero         Unused subs: Hart, Kolarov, Demichelis, Iheanacho     Bookings: Fernando, Kompany, Otamendi, Yaya Toure

Referee: Michael Oliver                         Att:86,206

Dynamo Kyiv 1 Manchester City 3    Russian Result!!
24th February 2016 : Stuart Cooper for GYKO at the NSC Olimpiyskiy

Manchester City should be supremely confident of going beyond the Champions League last 16 at the third time of asking particularly if Dynamo Kyiv are shut out more ruthlessly in the return leg.

Until a delightful curled strike by Yaya Touré in the last minute gave City a two‑goal cushion, Manuel Pellegrini’s team had sloppily allowed Kyiv back into the tie during a second half in which they scored and gave City other scares. Chief among these was a Vitaliy Buyalskiy effort that forced Joe Hart into a superb save to his right before Touré struck.

The quest to reach the quarter-finals for the first time began with Touré strong-arming Denys Garmash to give away a free-kick. This was floated in by Andriy Yarmalenko and when the No10 followed it into the area the ball came back to him and he forced Hart to tip a cross-shot on to the bar.

Pellegrini had Fernandinho and Raheem Sterling flanking Touré and Fernando in midfield and David Silva behind Sergio Agüero.

Touré pinged a ball into Agüero, who returned it for the Ivorian to hit it at Oleksandr Shovkovskiy. Kyiv threatened when Lukasz Teodorczyk, profiting from Fernando’s clumsy play, broke clear but his effort did not trouble Hart.

City’s opener derived from fine work along the left from Sterling, who won the visitors’ opening corner. Kyiv had been unable to make the two they had taken count, and Silva was to show them how. He curved the ball on to Touré’s head. He headed down and Agüero was unmarked and in no mood to miss from close range for a 16th goal from his past 17 starts in the competition.

Moments later, the Argentinian should have doubled the lead. Garmash dawdled, Fernando stole the ball, and when it was recycled to Agüero the striker’s run was clever as it peeled off to the right but the finish was less so, blazing across Shovkovskiy and wide.

A truism of this City side is that they find it hard to shut the back door. Just as Fernando’s earlier error allowed Teodorczyk in so, too, a Nicolás Otamendi mistake ceded possession to the danger man Yarmolenko and his clever pass in behind released Teodorczyk, but his effort lacked composure.

An open contest was developing in which each time Kyiv or City were on the ball they pushed forward instantly. A fine tackle by Fernando won possession and he sprayed it left to Agüero whose run was mirrored by Touré. The ball came to the midfielder precisely where he would want and the shot forced Shovkovskiy to turn it away for a corner.

The 41-year-old could do nothing to prevent City’s classy second as the break neared. Agüero twisted and turned and backheeled to Sterling. The forward ghosted into space and his pass removed the Kyiv rearguard. Silva could not and did not miss.

It was Kyiv’s return following the winter break, though Serhiy Rebrov’s team had played 13 friendlies over the past month to mitigate against rustiness. There is no substitute for competitive matches and when the referee, Antonio Mateu Lahoz, blew for half-time Kyiv found themselves up against it.

Perhaps referencing the decision to start six teenagers in the 5-1 FA Cup defeat at Chelsea, Pellegrini said before kick-off: “We have a very good starting 11 and we need a performance against a difficult team. It is always important to score an away goal. Our target is to try to score from the beginning. It is a very important moment.”

He would have been pleased with the first half. City were coasting and the manager’s interval chat may have stressed the importance of simply continuing as they had: squeeze Kyiv, take the ball, then move towards goal at pace.

Rebrov replaced Teodorczyk with Júnior Moraes for the second half and the hope may have been that the No11 could be as ruthless as City had proved in front of goal. Moraes was handed the ball by a clumsy pass from Gaël Clichy and the ensuing Kyiv attack ended with Yarmolenko firing a shot at Hart that was a warning to City to refocus.

To quieten the Olimpiyskiy stadium the best ploy was to grab the ball and come at Kyiv. Sterling caught on and might have won a penalty when going down near Aleksandar Dragovic but Mateu Lahoz was unimpressed. A second shout for a spot-kick came a few minutes later when Dragovic came together with Silva and the Spaniard appealed but again the referee said no.

In between Kyiv scored and City could curse their luck. Otamendi headed clear only to see Buyalskiy’s effort pinball off him and past Hart for 2-1. This had become uncomfortable for City. Miguel Veloso found Yarmolenko who should have set up Moraes, then Sterling had to make a saving tackle to thwart Veloso. Touré’s late goal increased the margin in what ended as a fine victory and City should finish business at the Etihad Stadium on 15 March.

Teams  
Dynamo Kyiv: Shovkovskiy, Danilo Silva (Makarenko 66), Dragovic, Vida, Khacheridi, Rybalka, Garmash (Veloso 31), Gonzalez, Buyalskiy, Yarmolenko, Teodorczyk (Moraes 46)    Unused subs:Petrovic, Korzun, Gusev, Rudko

Manchester City:Hart, Sagna, Kompany, Otamendi, Clichy, Fernando, Fernandinho, Toure, Silva, Sterling, Aguero (Iheanacho 90+1)
Unused subs: Caballero, Demichelis, Zabaleta, Mangala, Kolarov, M.Garcia 

Referee: A Mateu Lahoz      Att:63,000

Chelsea 5 Manchester City 1       Bridge of Sighes
21st February 2016 : Ken Hollins at Stamford Bridge for GYKO

Chelsea booked their place in the FA Cup quarter-finals with a 5-1 victory over a young Manchester City side at Stamford Bridge on Sunday evening.

Diego Costa headed Chelsea in front before David Faupala, one of five full debutants for City, equalised from close-range, but two goals in five minutes after half-time put Guus Hiddink's side in control.

Willian slid home a third and Eden Hazard's free-kick made it four, and there was still time for Willy Caballero to save Oscar's penalty before substitute Bertrand Traore added a fifth.

But the Blues condemned the actions of a section of supporters after referee Andre Marriner removed a number of coins from the pitch close to the area where Faupala celebrated City's goal.

City have now lost three games in a row for the first time under Manuel Pellegrini, while Chelsea, who face Everton at Goodison Park in the quarter-finals, have scored five in back-to-back home matches. With an eye on their Champions League tie against Dynamo Kiev next week, Pellegrini made nine changes from the Tottenham defeat, including full debuts for five academy prospects.And against a strong Chelsea side unchanged from their loss in Paris, they began the brighter as Faupala forced Thibaut Courtois into an early save.

The fast start didn't last long, though, and Pedro soon hit the post after a neat interchange with Cesc Fabregas. Hiddink's side continued to press and opened the scoring 10 minutes before half-time through Costa. Fabregas' lofted pass found Hazard in the box, and his hooked cross was turned home by the Chelsea striker for his seventh goal in seven games at Stamford Bridge.

City were only behind for 94 seconds as young French forward Faupala swiftly equalised from three yards. Signed as a free agent last summer after leaving Lens, he deflected Cesar Azpilicueta's clearance into the net after good work from Kelechi Iheanacho.
Shortly after the goal, and in the wake of Chris Brunt being struck by a coin on Saturday, Marriner removed a number of objects from the area of the pitch where City celebrated their goal, with a Chelsea spokesman subsequently condemning the incident.

Chelsea nearly went back in front just before the break, but Caballero palmed clear Pedro's volley after more impressive play from Fabregas. The home side dominated the second half and took control just after the interval. Willian played a one-two with Hazard, taking the return pass and sweeping home to put Chelsea back ahead.

Gary Cahill smashed home number three after a poor clearance from Fernando five minutes later, the ball squirting underneath Caballero. Willian then deferred to Hazard when the Belgian won a free-kick in a central position, and he made the most of poor positioning from the City goalkeeper to whip into the far corner. The goal, added to two assists, capped an impressive performance from Hazard, whose involvement in three goals is as many as he had been in 24 previous appearances.

Costa was replaced by Traore to a standing ovation, and the substitute was immediately involved, winning a penalty after a challenge from Martin Demichelis. Oscar stepped up, but Caballero guessed correctly. The respite was short-lived as Chelsea eventually grabbed a fifth through Traore, who scored for the second successive FA Cup match after his goal at MK Dons. The striker had been denied by the post moments before, but found the net with an improvised header in the 89th minute.

Teams
Chelsea: Courtois, Azpilicueta, Cahill, Ivanovic, Baba Rahman, Fabregas, Mikel (Matic 82), Pedro (Oscar 70), Willian, Hazard, Diego Costa (Traore 70)       Unused subs: Begovic, Miazga, Loftus-Cheek, Remy

Manchester City: Caballero, Zabaleta, Adarabioyo, Demichelis, Kolarov, Fernando (Humphreys 78), A.Garcia, M.Garcia, Celina (Barker 53), Iheanacho, Faupala          Unused subs: Hart, Clichy, Kompany, Fernandinho, Sterling     Bookings: Demichelis

Referee: Andre Marriner

Manchester City 1 Tottenham 2       Clattenburg Clanger
Sunday 14th February 2016 : GYKO at the Etihad

Yaya Touré will not wish to see a replay of the error that led to Christian Eriksen’s late goal that sent Tottenham Hotspur home jubilant and put a further dent in Manchester City’s championship hopes.

The Ivorian ran into traffic and trouble near halfway and from there City unravelled. Erik Lamela had just come on as a substitute but a cool head allowed the Argentinian to carry the ball forward before passing to Eriksen, whose finish beyond Joe Hart may prove priceless when the Premier League trophy is handed out in May.

City had fought back impressively during a second half in which they appeared the more likely to claim the points, especially after Kelechi Iheanacho’s equaliser. Yet by the end, after Nicolás Otamendi had failed to beat Hugo Lloris to a header that might have grabbed the draw, Tottenham had moved to within two points of the leaders, Leicester City.

With only 12 games remaining Manuel Pellegrini’s side suffered a second consecutive loss but look at the same six-point gap to the top with which they began the day. The normally cool-headed Pellegrini stopped to “congratulate” Mike Dean, the fourth official, before walking off at full-time.

Pellegrini was particularly unhappy at the 53rd-minute penalty awarded by Mark Clattenburg after the referee decided Raheem Sterling had handled Danny Rose’s cross.

Yet the truth is this result means City’s best showing against their three title rivals remains a goalless draw at Leicester in late December and they have still not beaten a side in the top six. This is not the kind of form to offer convincing evidence Pellegrini could yet guide City to a second title in three years. Since Pep Guardiola was announced as his summer successor they have lost twice and won only once.

The start was the opposite of the free-for-all that had been the Arsenal-Leicester game earlier in the day. It featured the kind of cautious exchanges that often occur in a title race’s defining phase.

City, however, posed the greater threat. David Silva was in chief-conductor mode, Sterling was finding space and Sergio Agüero was given two chances to open the scoring.

Each of these came from City corners. A Silva-Fernandinho-Silva-Sterling-Silva move along the Spurs right ended with the Spaniard’s shot being deflected out. Silva took the kick from the left but Agüero’s header was looping and weak, and simple for Lloris to collect. The second chance again saw Silva swing his cross in from the left, but Agüero’s attempt with his left foot was high.

Pellegrini positioned Touré as the No10 behind Agüero and in flashes the Ivorian posed the visitors problems – either by running with the ball or without it, as a late arrival into the area.

The way to trouble this Pellegrini team is to hound and cut off their thinking time. This is how Leicester departed with a 3-1 win just over a week ago, but during the first half Spurs failed to do the necessary.

Any questions they asked were more prosaic. Eriksen, the No10 in Mauricio Pochettino’s 4-2-3-1, drifted across the turf and let fly a 25-yard shot that forced the under-worked Hart to save. Later, Rose hit a volley that was on course to trouble Hart before Pablo Zabaleta’s head intervened.

Vincent Kompany had been confirmed in the City starting XI for the first time since 8 November and given their defensive maladies the hope was he could immediately reach match-day speed.

As the interval arrived the home rear-defence had indeed been more composed, though Kompany’s rustiness caused two errors. There was an awry header that conceded possession and a clearance that allowed Tottenham to rove straight back at City. But like the rest of the opening half, this came to nothing.

Only eight minutes of the second half were needed to change the picture as the referee awarded a penalty after Sterling was ruled to have committed the handling misdemeanour from Rose’s attempted ball into the area. It was actually more of an elbow after the No7 turned his back.

Kane made no mistake, smacking the spot kick past Hart. The atmosphere had become raucous and City nearly enjoyed an instant response when Touré addressed a 25-yard free-kick after Kevin Wimmer’s foul, for which the central defender was booked. Touré stuttered his run-up and was unlucky to see his fine attempt crash back off the bar.

After 74 minutes Pellegrini made his first move, taking off Fernando for Iheanacho. Having to look to a 19-year-old for help to turn round such a crucial match is illustrative of the injuries that blight a City squad whose most important miss is Kevin De Bruyne, a long-term absentee.

Iheanacho did not make the best start when a regulation touch was clumsy and the ball ran away for a goal kick. The next time he was found the youngster made serious amends. Gaël Clichy fashioned a slick one-two with Silva and when the City left-back pinged the ball over the substitute produced an instant finish that left Lloris no chance.

City had grabbed the momentum and were flying at Tottenham. Touré galloped forward and aimed a shot a Lloris that warmed the Frenchman’s fingers but at the final whistle all the positive energy and feelings belonged to the visitors.

Teams
Manchester City: Hart, Zabaleta, Kompany, Otamendi, Clichy (Kolarov, 75), Fernandinho, Fernando (Iheanacho, 66), Silva, Toure, Sterling, Aguero
Unused subs: Aleix Garcia, Manu Garcia, Celina, Demichelis, Caballero     Bookings: Kompany

Spurs:Lloris (c), Walker, Alderweireld, Wimmer, Rose; Dembele, Dier, Eriksen, Alli (Lamela, 81), Son (Carroll, 72), Kane (Chadli, 89)
Unused subs: Vorm, Davies, Trippier, Mason      Bookings: Dier, Wimmer, Carroll

Referee: Mark Clattenburg      Att. 54551

Manchester City 1 Leicester City 3      Outfoxed by the Fox's
Saturday 6th February 2016 : GYKO at the Etihad

 Match of the season? Not quite. It takes two sides to make a real contest and Manchester City were so unimpressive in this early title showdown it made a mockery of the games’s first v second billing. Result of the decade? Quite possibly. Leicester still have to keep going – they have the small matter of a trip to the Emirates next Sunday – but they did not just squeeze past their closest rivals, they beat them handsomely.

The scoreline does not lie, except that Sergio Agüero’s late contribution rather flattered the home side. Manchester City could not have complained had they lost 4-0, such was the imbalance between opportunities created. “Scoring so early gave us confidence,” Leicester’s manager, Claudio Ranieri, said. “That allowed us to close down all the space.”

It had been suggested beforehand that Leicester’s pace and precision might find reward against Manchester’s City’s somewhat ponderous central defence, though it was envisaged Jamie Vardy or Riyad Mahrez might do the damage. Instead it was the unlikely figure of Robert Huth who turned out to be the two-goal hero as Ranieri’s team passed their greatest test to extend their lead at the top of the Premier League.

The big defender nipped in ahead of Martín Demichelis to give the visitors a third-minute lead as Manchester City failed to defend the first set piece of the game. Mahrez had set up the opportunity, drawing a foul from Aleksandar Kolarov with a run down the right and taking the free-kick himself. The home side might have been expecting a high cross but got a low one and Huth simply reacted quickest to get a foot to the ball on the six-yard line, even if a ricochet off the defender was the final touch.

Goal of the season contender it was not, but it was a dream start for Leicester and one that helped them stick to the gameplan that has proved so effective this season. There is nothing complicated about what Leicester do, they stay compact and deep in defence and try to hit Vardy upfield on the counter.

Once City were obliged to chase an equaliser and leave gaps at the back it played into Leicester’s hands, at times excessively so, for on a few occasions in the first half the visitors were turning over a reckless amount of possession.

Constantly inviting such dangerous players as David Silva and Raheem Sterling to carry the ball into the final third does not seem the most sensible of strategies, but Manchester City were short of ideas and invention and Leicester got away with it. The best chance Manchester City managed to create came right at the end of the first half when Agüero rolled a cross right across the face of an unprotected goal with no one available to tap it in.

The game was still in the balance while there was only a single goal in it and it seemed likely that if Leicester persisted in trying to soak up whatever their opponents could throw at them Manchester City would at some point get back on terms in the second half. So Leicester just repeated what they had done in the first half and scored another early goal, two minutes after the restart, and this time there was nothing scrappy about it.

Using Vardy in the centre as a decoy, Mahrez ran at the home defence and ended up outstripping almost the entire back four before beating Joe Hart with a confident finish. Pablo Zabaleta lost possession high up the field on Leicester’s left, Nicolás Otamendi sold himself too easily by going to ground without managing to dispossess the ball carrier, an elegant feint took Demichelis out of the equation and by the time Kolarov came across from the right to attempt a challenge it was too late to prevent the shot.

It might not have been as jaw-dropping as Vardy’s effort against Liverpool last week, but it was a goal elegant enough to light up any game and it prevented any accusations that Leicester had merely ridden their luck after taking an early lead.

Manuel Pellegrini made a double substitution in response, withdrawing the ineffective Yaya Touré and the labouring Fabian Delph. While Fernando did manage to bring a smart save from Kasper Schmeichel with a close-range header, Leicester went another goal in front before any tactical adjustment could take effect.

It was another from Huth at another set piece, this time a simple matter of rising higher than anyone else and nodding Christian Fuchs’s deep corner back over the head of a powerless Hart, though that bald description does scant justice to the part Vardy played in winning the corner.

Flicking the ball beyond the home defence and accelerating into the penalty area to reach it, Vardy proved capable of terrorising Manchester City with his pace after all. He was unlucky not to score in the second half, on one occasion being foiled by Hart’s prompt action in coming off his line to block, then putting a header just wide from a corner and finally finding the side-netting with a shot from a tight angle.

If it had been all Manchester City in the first half, it was all Leicester City in the second. If the final score was a surprise, there was nothing inexplicable about it. Manchester City had struggled to create chances when they had a mountain of possession, largely through the hard work of the indefatigable Danny Drinkwater and N’Golo Kanté in closing them down. Agüero did grab a headed goal back right at the end, but you would be hard-pressed to work out how that afforded Manchester City any sort of consolation.

They had been outplayed and outthought by opponents who do the important things in football. Defend when necessary, score when possible. “My team defended bad and attacked bad,” was Pellegrini’s pithy summary. “But Leicester played very well. If they can continue like that they have a great chance of the title.”

Manchester City: Hart, Zabaleta, Demichelis, Otamendi, Kolarov, Fernandinho, Toure (Fernando 52), Delph (Iheanacho 52), Silva (Celina 77), Sterling, Aguero        Unused subs: Caballero, A Garcia, Clichy, Sagna       Bookings: Zabaleta, Fernando

Leicester City: Schmeichel, Simpson, Morgan, Huth, Fuchs, Mahrez (Gray 77), Kanté, Drinkwater, Albrighton (Dyer 86), Okazaki (Ulloah 80), Vardy
Unused subs: Schwarzer, King, Wasilewski, Chilwell         Bookings: Morgan, Simpson

Referee: Anthony Taylor         Att:54,693

Sunderland 0 Manchester City 1         Hard Work at Stadium of Light
Tuesday 2nd February 2016 : Dennis Stevens for GYKO at the Stadium of Light

Manuel Pellegrini’s extended farewell to Manchester City began on a winning note but he will surely enjoy easier evenings before making way for Pep Guardiola in the summer.

Thanks to Sergio Agüero’s first-half winner City’s title challenge remains very much alive, but if Sunderland can keep playing with this sort of sheer bloody-minded determination, a team which merited at least a draw here will not deserve to be relegated.

The verve and vibrancy of a quite formidable second-half attacking performance from Sam Allardyce’s players stretched Pellegrini’s side to the limit. With the home debutant Wahbi Khazri frequently fazing the Chilean’s defence, Jan Kirchhoff increasingly imperious in central midfield and Joe Hart performing heroics in the visiting goal, it was small wonder the home manager pronounced himself “gutted”.

Pellegrini simply looked relieved. “It was very important to win here,” said a coach whose name was chorused by the visiting fans. “It was a very tough game and a very good result.” Inevitably he was asked about his impending departure. “I’m not thinking about that,” came the reply. “I’m just thinking about having a good season. We’re not thinking about the future; we’re living in the present.”

Considering Sunderland are still second bottom Allardyce has reason to fear for the future. “I feel gutted,” he said. “It’s the most disappointed I’ve been since coming here. A point was the least we deserved. We created more chances than Manchester City but Joe Hart showed why he’s the England goalkeeper. Manchester City had one chance and Agüero scored. But I don’t know anybody who has played as well as Jan Kirchhoff in central midfield for anybody this season.”

His revamped XI showcased a new look 4-1-4-1 formation featuring Kirchhoff, their new £750,000 central defensive signing from Bayern Munich – who had endured a shambolic debut at Tottenham last month – in the anchoring role behind midfield. It was a job he would become almost astonishingly good at.

With Lamine Koné, making an impressive bow at centre half following a £5m move from Lorient, quickly endearing himself to his new public by unleashing a teasing cross from the right which Martin Demichelis was forced to hack clear, Sunderland began reasonably brightly.

Even so, local optimism took quite a dent when Yaya Touré and Jesús Navas combined to create Agüero’s 12th goal in his last 10 Premier League appearances. If Agüero appeared every inch the expert marksman as he toe-poked Navas’s deflected left-wing cross into the roof of the net from close range, Billy Jones looked a thoroughly wrong-footed right back. Attempting to make amends, Jones launched into a challenge as the striker shot, his studs raking Agüero down the back of a leg and, following prolonged treatment, leaving him with a badly torn, blood stained, sock.

Undeterred, he might have scored a second had his curling shot not taken a deflection off Yann M’Vila. Significantly that opening was conjured by 19-year-old Kelechi Iheanacho who showed precisely why he had been preferred to Raheem Sterling by holding off John O’Shea quite brilliantly before supplying Agüero.

David Silva was starting to control the tempo of the game but Sunderland had their moments and, as Kirchhoff was proving, were far from incapable of disrupting the visitors’ rhythm.

Koné should have equalised but made an absolute hash of an unmarked close range header following Jeremain Lens’s excellent free kick. Bar accidentally catching Demichelis in the mouth with a stray elbow Jermain Defoe had been fairly quiet, but all that changed when he turned his marker before dispatching a shot which was destined for the bottom corner until Hart dived low to divert the danger. Recovering rapidly, his positioning then prevented Jones from scoring on the rebound.

Aware that, for all City’s elegant menace, Vito Mannone had had precious little to do, Allardyce perhaps sensed it might not take all that much to change the narrative. He duly introduced Khazri, his £9m signing from Bordeaux, at half time, the Tunisian replacing the injured Lens.

With Pellegrini suspecting that, despite some dazzling footwork, Iheanacho might not be defensively streetwise enough to protect his side’s lead, he sent Fernando on in his stead to bolster central midfield. Sure enough Sunderland were suddenly rampant and Patrick van Aanholt was unfortunate to see an excellent left-wing cross fractionally evade Defoe.

If the geometry of City’s short passing exuded class, key performers were tiring fast as the game became slightly spiky. Defoe and Nicolás Otamendi squared up in the wake of an aerial challenge, before a wince-inducing heavyweight collision involving Touré and Koné. Sunderland though retained sufficient focus for Jones to prompt another fantastic save from Hart.

The keeper subsequently did extremely well to twice deny Khazri while Otamendi would clear Kirchhoff’s late header off the line, ensuring City continue to cling to Leicester’s coat-tails.
 
Teams
Sunderland:Mannone, Jones, O’Shea, Kone, Kirchhoff, van Aanholt, Cattermole (Johnson 75), M’Vila, Borini (N'Doye 82), Lens (Khazri 46), Defoe
Unused subs:Pickford, Brown, Yedlin, Watmore      Bookings:Jones

Manchester City: Hart, Sagna, Demichelis, Otamendi, Clichy, Fernandinho, Yaya Toure (Kolarov , Silva, Navas (Sterling 77), Aguero, Iheanacho (Fernando 46)      Unused subs:Caballero, Zabaleta, Celina, Barker        Bookings: Otamendi, Aguero, Fernandinho, Sagna

Referee:Stuart Attwell        Att:38,852

 

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