I have some sense of optimism after last night’s performance against Manchester City, who you could argue have the best team in the Premier League. They definitely have the best striker in Sergio Aguero. I was worried about how their players would react to the news that Manuel Pellegrini was leaving at the end of the season with Pep Guardiola replacing him in the summer.
But Pellegrini made one baffling substitution to me as at the start of the second-half he took off Kelechi Iheanacho and brought on Fernando, which showed to me he was content to sit back and protect a 1-0 lead.
At that point I felt confident we would get a result from the game. But sadly it wasn’t to be. If Man City win games like that, they should win the league because if you’re going to be champions then it’s important to win games when you’re not playing well.
I thought we did exceptionally well and battered them for large parts of the game. I was talking to some Man City fans afterwards and they admitted we probably deserved a point. The goal was annoying because although the defenders were unlucky with the way the ball bounced across the turf, I still felt Billy Jones should have been more alert of Aguero, who was right next to him.
Other than that, we had chances through debutant Lamine Kone, Jones, Jermain Defoe and substitute Dame N’Doye.
It is a little concerning that, once again, Bournemouth won and Swansea didn’t lose but there is still hope yet for Sunderland - we desperately need a run of five or six league wins.
I mentioned before that our fixtures after Liverpool and Manchester United don’t look too bad but in all honesty we probably need a win in the next two games to stay in touching distance. Despite their recent ‘struggles’ they are still two of the biggest clubs around but when compared to Man City they don’t have many, if any, players to be terrified of.
One thing is for certain - we CANNOT let that standard in performance drop between now and the end of the season if we are to stay up.
As for the new boys, Kone, Jan Kirchhoff, Wahbi Khazri and N’Doye looked very promising but bear in mind, it’s just one game, so I’m not going to get too carried away. Kirchhoff looked very composed in midfield and didn’t look afraid to take people on - he looked a completely different player to what we saw at Tottenham and you could definitely see his fitness has improved.
Kone was the stand out to me - he had City’s attackers rather comfortably in his back pocket. He looks the type of player we’ve needed for months if not years in defence; strong, tall and well-built. He had that commanding presence about him and if we do stay up, I think he’ll be a big part of it.
Man City isn’t really the game in which you want Khazri and N’Doye to burst onto the scene but both looked threatening and hopefully more will come from them in the future.
Finally, Sunderland’s season isn’t going to be judged on how we do against the likes of Manchester City, Liverpool and Manchester United. Yes, results against them would be more than welcome but after these three games are where we will be judged at the end of the season.
Hopefully it’s not too little too late. Ha’way the Lads.