Mancini still looking for 'Plan B' as Man City slip up again on Wearside
23:20 GMT, 26 December 2012
Manchester City's afternoon finished with Joleon Lescott at centre forward, Joe Hart pitching up for two added-time corners and City coach Brian Kidd on the touchline. All are signs of tension, and yesterday, not good signs.
As City pushed in vain for an equaliser, Kidd will have heard the comeback news from Old Trafford with familiar bewilderment. Everyone did. Then the final whistle blew and Roberto Mancini stood apart, literally, with a thousand-yard stare and a seven-point deficit. There had been no release.
Out of touch: Manchester City manager Roberto Mancini (right)
City had lost again on Wearside. The champions of England have it all to do if their fans are to sing that line this time next year.
The 'champions' song had got an early airing at the Stadium of Light, along with an un-witty ditty about Robin van Persie.
But by five o'clock City fans bore silent witness to their first away defeat since April. The noise from United must have disturbed them as much as their team's frustration and while Mancini played down the significance of one day in a 38-game campaign, the halfway mark comparison with last season is revealing.
City are not just seven points off United, they are six points short of their own tally of a year ago. Then they arrived at Sunderland top of the table, with a first title in 44 years to chase but lost 1-0 to Ji Dong-won's 90th-minute goal.
Mixed message: Defender Joleon Lescott finished the game upfront
An appealing contrast yesterday should have been that they had time to recover from Adam Johnson's 53rd-minute strike, which had so embarrassed Hart and led to him seeking late atonement.
But City couldn't level matters. They don't look like the rising force they were 12 months ago; they look like they are searching. Mancini blamed 'soft' attacking, a reference to Sergio Aguero's 70th-minute chance and an earlier one for David Silva, both saved by Simon Mignolet. Mancini's lack of panic was understandable. City flowed for the opening 20 minutes, Mignolet's importance to the home win tells a story and Aguero and Carlos Tevez showed a great understanding.
Yet before kick-off Kolo Toure had sounded concerns about City requiring a 'Plan B' when faced by opponents who sit deep. That followed Saturday's stoppage-time winner from Gareth Barry to beat Reading.
Adam family: Johnson returned to haunt his old club
But Toure cannot have been talking about throwing on Lescott in the 89th minute as a regular viable alternative. Lescott replaced midfielder Javi Garcia, whose performance was neither energetic nor creative.
City must have both in places like this, but Yaya Toure displayed only flashes of his authority. Privately, he'd probably like some help.
But this wasn't all about City. The teamsheet sparked a legitimate debate as to which Sunderland players would get on the City bench, never mind the first XI. Johnson came from that bench. Yesterday he reminded City of his talent. Johnson's new manager, Martin O'Neill, did the same.