Aguero strike secures hard-earned victory for the Blues
FA Premier League
Tuesday 02 February 2016, 19.45 KO
City: Hart, Sagna, Otamendi, Demichelis, Clichy, Fernandinho, Toure (Kolarov 79), Navas (Sterling 77), Silva, Iheanacho (Fernando 46), Aguero
Unused: Caballero, Zabaleta, Celina, Barker
Goals: Aguero (16)
Booked: Otamendi, Aguero, Fernandinho, Sagna
Referee: Stuart Attwell
Man of the match: Hart
A first-half Sergio Aguero goal was enough to secure three points for City at The Stadium of Light, but it was a difficult evening for Manuel Pellegrini's side. The outgoing City manager made a number of changes to the team that had comfortably beaten Aston Villa at the weekend, with the likes of Yaya Toure, David Silva and Sergio Aguero restored to the starting line-up.
The Blues started brightly, with Iheanacho and Aguero linking up well in the early stages. Aguero came close with a shot from distance that just cleared Vito Mannone's crossbar, before giving the Blues a deserved lead after 16 minutes. Jesus Navas' cross was deflected into Aguero's path, and the Argentinian striker made no mistake from close range. There was initially some concern that he had been injured in the process of scoring, after Billy Jones raked his studs down Aguero's calf, but thankfully City's top scorer returned to the fray after treatment.
However, the goal seemed to galvanise Sunderland, and the home team finished the half much the stronger. Indeed, Sam Allardyce's team could've gone in level after Jermain Lens' free kick found Lamine Kone unmarked in the box, but the debutant headed wide with the goal at his mercy. Jermaine Defoe had an even better opportunity just before the break, but Joe Hart made at outstanding save at his near post, and Jones was unable to convert the rebound. City, for their part, felt aggrieved that Defoe had escaped earlier punishment after appearing to catch Martin Demichelis in the face with a flailing arm, but referee Atwell waved played on.
Tempers flared again in the second half, when Defoe caught Otamendi in the face with another elbow, and the two players had to be separated after squaring up. The challenge merited at least a yellow card, but Atwell once again turned a blind eye. By this point Pellegrini had replaced Iheanacho with Fernando in an attempt to wrestle back control of the game, but Sunderland continued on the front foot and dominated the second period.
John O'Shea and Jones came close, but City's defended resiliently and were able to hold on to secure an important win. Sunderland will consider themselves unlucky not to have claimed at least a point, whilst City will be relieved to have won whilst playing poorly. Leaders Leicester City visit The Etihad on Saturday, and Pellegrini will know that the Blues will need to be much improved if they're to reclaim top spot.