Manchester City 3 Sunderland 3: Title hopes suffer another blow despite late rally
16:34 GMT, 31 March 2012
Manchester City dropped two potentially vital points in the Barclays Premier League title race despite a rousing late fightback against Sunderland.
Mario Balotelli's second goal of the afternoon and a powerful Aleksandar Kolarov strike inside the last five minutes at the Etihad Stadium earned City a draw but it was not enough to take them back top.
Sunderland had powered into a 3-1 lead with two goals from Sebastian Larsson and a fine header from Nicklas Bendtner.
Warring factions: Two-goal hero Mario Balotelli squabbles with Aleksandar Kolarov over the taking of a free-kick
Man City: Hart, Richards (Johnson 46), Toure, Kompany, Kolarov, Milner (Pizarro 81), De Jong, Toure Yaya, Silva (Tevez 58), Balotelli, Dzeko. Subs not used: Pantilimon, Clichy, Barry, Zabaleta.
Booked: De Jong.
Scorer: Balotelli (pen) 43, Kolarov 86.
Sunderland: Mignolet, Bardsley, Turner, Kilgallon (Kyrgiakos 81), Colback, Larsson, Gardner, Cattermole, McClean, Sessegnon, Bendtner. Subs not used: Westwood, Campbell, Richardson, Vaughan, Ji, Meyler.
Scorer: Larsson 31, 55, Bendtner 45.
Referee: Phil Dowd.
From that position, City would
ordinarily have been pleased with a draw – which preserved their
unbeaten home record – but arch-rivals Manchester United now have a huge
advantage and could go five points clear on Monday.
It was a fractious affair in which Balotelli appeared to argue with team-mate Carlos Tevez.
Problems appeared to be mounting for City before kick-off when, a day
after manager Roberto Mancini mysteriously refused to discuss top scorer
Sergio Aguero's ankle problem, Samir Nasri revealed he had been ruled
out by injury.
City at least had the reassurance of
captain Vincent Kompany back in their defence after four games out with a
calf injury but the hosts lacked bite and were pushed back from the
Micah Richards found himself in the
firing line early on as he blocked a powerful shot from James McClean
and then required treatment after Stephane Sessegnon beat him to create
Sessegnon failed to make the most of that chance, opting not to pass to McClean to cut inside and Kolo Toure cleared.
Hammer blow: Sebastian Larsson beat Joe Hart for his second goal of the game
The first signs of City unrest were
perhaps seen as Balotelli and Yaya Toure were involved in animated
discussions as play was stopped for Richards' injury.
Sunderland had another good chance to
go ahead as Sessegnon was twice involved in a sweeping move but Craig
Gardner's shot into the side netting.
City responded as Edin Dzeko tested
Simon Mignolet and Kompany scuffed a shot wide from the resulting corner
but Sunderland remained just as likely scorers.
Controversy: Sunderland players remonstrate with referee Phil Down after seeing a penalty awarded to Manchester City for a foul on Edin Dzeko
McClean turned on the edge of the
area to shoot narrowly wide and Bendtner then had an effort blocked
before the visitors deservedly went ahead on the half hour.
Larsson did the damage with a superb finish from the edge of the area, beating Joe Hart with a low shot into the bottom corner.
City tried to reply quickly and Yaya Toure won a free-kick on the edge of the area but Mignolet saved from Kolarov.
On top: Nicklas Bendtner is congratulated by Lee Cattermole after putting Sunderland 2-1 up
City got back into the game from the penalty spot after Phil Dowd controversially ruled that Gardner had upended Dzeko.
Sunderland were furious at the decision but Balotelli kept his cool to level.
An argument broke out between Dzeko
and Phil Bardsley when play was stopped following a clash of heads
between Richards and Colback.
Not now: Phil Dowd pushes Roberto Mancini away after the final whistle as the Italian complains
Balotelli proved an unlikely
peacemaker and play eventually restarted, but City may have wished it
had not as Sunderland reclaimed the lead in first-half injury time.
Bendtner made no mistake as he planted a firm header past Hart from a Sessegnon cross.
City needed to respond but it was Sunderland who continued to force the pace in the early stages of the second half.
Yaya Toure, weary after a heavy
tackle, was beaten to the ball inside his own half as Sessegnon launched
the attack which led to Sunderland's third.
Parity restored: Kolarov lets fly to make it 3-3
Bendtner raced into space down the
right and played a low ball into the box for Larsson, who timed his run
perfectly to slide in at the far post.
Mancini's response was to send on
Tevez for Silva and the hosts spurned a chance moments later as Kolo
Toure headed over from a corner.
City won a free-kick after Kolarov
went down on the edge of the area and frustrations boiled over as the
hosts could not decide who should take it.
Fightback: Balotelli levels just before half-time
Balotelli clearly wanted to be
involved and reacted unhappily when Tevez lined up behind the ball.
Kompany had to push the Italian away and in the end it was Kolarov who
took it, curling a shot wide.
Tevez had his first chance as City broke from deep but hit the side netting from the edge of the area.
Bendtner missed a fine chance to make it 4-1 when he fired over from the edge of the box and City finally stirred into life.
Balotelli reduced the arrears with a
fine goal, all of his own making, five minutes from time as he came in
from the left and ran across the edge of the box to beat Mignolet from
High riser: Bendtner puts Sunderland ahead
The hosts threw everything into
attack and were rewarded again as substitute David Pizarro rolled the
ball wide for Kolarov to smash home.
Despite some frantic late scenes, however, City could not claim a winner.