Manchester City responded to the news of manager Manuel Pellegrini’s summer departure with a hard-earned win over Sunderland at the Stadium of Light.
Pellegrini – who will be replaced by Pep Guardiola – saw Sergio Aguero gather a deflected cross to coolly finish with the outside of his foot.
Sunderland rallied, debutant Lamine Kone heading wide before Billy Jones hit the post just before the break.
Jones forced a Joe Hart save late on as City – sluggish on the night – held on.
Relive how City edged out Sunderland
They remain three points adrift of leaders Leicester City, while Sunderland stay four points from safety in 19th.
Sam Allardyce’s side can, however, take pride in their display, and only a Nicolas Otamendi header on the goal line in injury time denied them a deserved point.
The Pep effect
City’s backs-to-the wall display in the second half was surprising for a team unbeaten in six league games before kick-off.
The home side had more possession after the break and played the game almost entirely in the away half as City looked happy to take what Aguero’s well-taken effort had earned them.
So was this a City hangover from Monday’s news of Pellegrini’s future exit? “We’re here to win titles,” said City keeper Hart afterwards. “Yesterday’s news was never going to be a distraction.”
Hart’s key save from Jermain Defoe before the break saw Jones strike the woodwork from the follow up as Sunderland seized momentum in the match.
They ran 6km further than Pellegrini’s side and had five more shots on the night, falling short as they lacked a player with the instinct Aguero showcased.
City’s attitude will remain under the microscope after a defiant, if somewhat unconvincing display. Sunday’s meeting with Leicester should provide an ideal environment to see if minds are on a future under Guardiola.
Have Sunderland bought enough?
Sunderland manager Allardyce said he had to act in the January transfer window in order to battle the drop, and he gave debuts to signings Kone, and substitutes Dame N’Doye and Whabi Khazri.
In return he got what he says was the “best performance since I’ve been here”.
The Black Cats have conceded more goals than anyone in the league, but Kone seemed to add some steel and should have levelled affairs when he headed wide while unmarked.
Another January acquisition Jan Kirchhoff impressed in a holding role – touching the ball more than anyone on the pitch – so on early inspection, supporters should feel buoyed by the new blood.
In contrast to their usual issues at the back, it was at the other end where shortcomings were exposed. Chances largely fell to defensive players, with John O’Shea guiding an effort over from 10 yards late on.
Perhaps most encouraging for home fans was the spirit and belief in their side as attacks flowed in a frantic finale, and Otamendi brilliantly blocked an N’Doye effort before clearing from the line.
The result may be in keeping with Sunderland’s season but the display seemed to show the January window could prove a welcome turning point.
Man of the match – Nicolas Otamendi
Manchester City manager Manuel Pellegrini: “It was a tough game. This is a team who are fighting relegation. They will play every game like a final. It is not our style to play with nine defenders but it was our third game in a week and it was impossible to have a high pace with all our injuries. It was better to defend well and concentrate.”
Sunderland manager Sam Allardyce: “We missed too many chances today and when you play a Manchester City side and have better chances than them, it shows the level of our performance. There’s no result for us, the points aren’t there, but the positives are. While this performance was the best since I’ve been here, we’re in big trouble now when you look at the other results tonight.”
The stats you need to know
- This was Pellegrini’s 100th Premier League match and his 65th win. Only Jose Mourinho (73) has won more of his opening 100.
- Aguero has 12 goals in his last 10 Premier League appearances.
- City picked up three yellow cards in second half injury time, two of them for time wasting.
- Man City had only six shots all game and only one in the second half. Six is their joint-lowest in a Premier League game this season.
City’s home fixture with Leicester on Saturday lunchtime looks key as the title race enters its closing stages, while Sunderland know defeat when they host Liverpool hours later could see them slip further away from safety.