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Premier League

  • 31 March 2012
  • • 19:30
  • • Etihad Stadium, Manchester
  • Referee: P. Dowd
  • • Attendance: 47007
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Manchester City 3-3 Sunderland: Kolarov grabs late equaliser but Larsson double dents hosts' title challenge

Manchester City 3-3 Sunderland: Kolarov grabs late equaliser but Larsson double dents hosts' title challenge

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The Blues produced a stunning comeback, grabbing two late goals to rescue a potentially crucial point after the Black Cats had raced into a 3-1 lead

Sunderland were denied their first ever win over Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium on Saturday, as the Blues produced a stunning comeback to grab a 3-3 draw and potentially save their Premier League title hopes.

The Black Cats took a deserved first-half lead through Sebastian Larsson. City hit back through a Mario Balotelli penalty but Nicklas Bendtner restored the lead with a terrific header.

Larsson grabbed his second in the second half, yet with the points seemingly in the bag, City rallied late on and claimed a potentially crucial point thanks to goals from Balotelli and Aleksandar Kolarov.

Roberto Mancini made four changes to the side that struggled to a 1-1 draw at Stoke a week ago, the most notable being the return of Vincent Kompany, who replaced Pablo Zabaleta after three weeks out with a calf strain.

Kolarov was given the nod ahead of Gael Clichy at left-back, while James Milner and Nigel de Jong replaced Samir Nasri and Gareth Barry in the City midfield.

For the visitors, Martin O’Neill made just two changes to the side dumped out of the FA Cup by Everton on Tuesday. With Wayne Bridge unable to play against his parent club, Jack Colback started in an unorthodox left-back role, while Matthew Kilgallon was handed just his fourth league start of the season at the expense of Sotirios Kyrgiakos.

WHY ALWAYS HIM?

 PLAYER RATING
7.0 The Italian was already in the spotlight before the game and Mancini’s decision to pick the striker ahead of Carlos Tevez might just be questioned, with the 21-year-old not having a particularly effective afternoon apart from his well-taken penalty. Sparked anger amongst his team-mates and the fans after confronting his fellow players as they prepared to take a free-kick. Redeemed himself near the end however, with a superb effort from just inside the box, curling the ball round Mignolet.
Sunderland had never won at the Etihad Stadium, but the visitors looked in the mood to change that statistic early on, with the City rearguard having to be at their absolute best to deny James McClean and then Stephane Sessegnon.

But it didn’t take long for Mancini’s men to get into their stride, and it took a smart save from Simon Mignolet to deny Kolarov’s vicious free-kick.

A relatively one-sided half ensued, with City providing much of the game’s attacking threat, yet O’Neill’s men remained a constant threat on the counterattack and they had a glorious opportunity to take the lead.

After the Black Cats had worked the ball out to Sebastian Larsson, the Swedish midfielder cut it back to Sessegnon, who unselfishly squared for the unmarked Craig Gardner, yet the former Villa man fired inexplicably wide from just 12 yards.

However, with half an hour on the clock the visitors did grab the lead. Following some patient build-up play, Sessegnon eventually played the ball to Larsson on the edge of the area, who used Kolo Toure as a shield and whipped the ball into the unsighted Joe Hart’s bottom corner.

The goal clearly panicked the home side, with Balotelli throwing himself to the ground in the penalty area on numerous occasions without success.

Yet Mancini’s side eventually got the penalty they had been craving, when Edin Dzeko tumbled over the left leg of Craig Gardner. Balotelli stepped up and sent Mignolet the wrong way, restoring parity for his side.

With the game seemingly heading towards a half-time stalemate, Sunderland won a free-kick on the halfway line in the 48th minute. Larsson opted to play it quickly, catching City cold, and when Sessegnon whipped in a fantastic cross, Bendtner out-jumped Micah Richards at the back post and planted his header in the bottom corner, giving Sunderland a shock half-time lead.

A clear pattern began to emerge in the second-half, with the visitors sitting deep and letting City play in front of them.

Yet the Black Cats were still looking menacing on the break, and they stretched their lead with a fantastic break 10 minutes in.

The instrumental Sessegnon played Bendtner through with a sublime ball, the Dane looked up and found the unmarked Larsson at the back post, who was left with the simple task of slotting home, sending the travelling Wearsiders into raptures.

City needed a hero, and Mancini summoned Carlos Tevez from the bench in an attempt to rescue something from the game.

But the Argentine had little impact on the game, and with David Silva the man chosen to be replaced by Tevez, the home fans began to grow increasingly frustrated at their side’s lack of creativity.

Balotelli offered late hope for the home side with five minutes to play, after cutting into the box and lashing his right-footed effort into the top corner.

And just a minute after the restart, City had done what seemed almost impossible, as Kolarov produced a stunning drive from the edge of the area which flew past Mignolet into the bottom corner, without the Belgian moving.

As the game drew to a close, City pressed for a winner but without success, as Mancini's men failed to win a Premier League home game for the first time in 21 games, leaving them two points behind United but having played a game extra.

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