I always remember this game as being the first one that Gus Poyet’s way of playing was really, visibly evident, as we went toe-to-toe with Manchester City – and matched them every step of the way. We’d seen signs of it emerging in the previous couple of games – remarkably when we had nine men against Hull – but this was the first time we’d really clicked from the off.
Gus had arrived at the SoL in the aftermath of Paolo Di Canio and had, very pragmatically, opted to prioritise results over implementing his preferred, possession-based style.
A win over the mags in the league was the only positive in three Premier League games, before a cup win over Southampton, with Phil Bardsley getting on the scoresheet, showed positive signs of things to come.
Bardsley had been deployed at left back upon immediately returning from the wilderness, however Italian left back Andrea Dossena had been preferred there against Newcastle and Hull, with Bardsley reverting to his more familiar left back slot.
Dossena’s ridiculous sending off at Hull, however, had seen Bardsley move back over to the left, and it seemed to be to his liking. Competent using his left, it also gave the former Manchester United man the option of cutting inside and creating space to shoot – which he was actually very good at doing.
Vito Mannone made his first league start for the club, replacing Keiren Westwood, who’d gone off injured against Hull – Westwood, however, was fit enough to be on the bench.
For City, future Sunderland keeper Costel Pantillimon started in goal, while Joleon Lescott lined up in the centre of defence and Jack Rodwell was named on the bench.
Manchester City had lost their three previous visits to the SoL 1-0, and nerves showed as Sunderland took the game to the opposition. Playing patiently from the back, Sunderland worked space on the right and from Seb Larsson’s cross, Steven Fletcher couldn’t get his header on target.
Sunderland took the lead on 21, Bardsley cutting in from the left and curling a low shot past Pantillimon. Bardsley was maybe a touch fortunate not to be penalised for a foul on Milner, but the goal was awarded – cue wild celebrations.
City came back into the game and, in truth, we needed to withstand a lot of pressure – bot O’Shea, Brown and Manonne in particular stood strong, and in the main limited City to long range efforts, the away shot count of 24 and only four on target tells its own story.
For the final stages, Sunderland were packed back into our half, but survived the onslaught and a mixture of delight and relief marked the full time whistle.
It was an important victory in many ways for Poyet – it showed the team and the fans that his way of playing could achieve results against the best, and the players deserved a serious amount of credit for how quickly they adapted to what was a completely different way of operating.
After the game, Poyet said.
I’m very proud, very tired. Like I play the game. If you see or if you can show the players standing on the bench, you know the last few minutes everybody was like playing a game or heading the ball away and defending shots. That how much means for us, the players they understood everything that we we told them in the week, how difficult it has to be playing against top class players.
We need to make sure that we all believe it’s not only the manager is the players and the fans. We show plenty of things today, passing the ball keeping the ball better, being brave in tight areas. Then understanding what is the danger defending you know, putting your body through the line. Plenty of things normally should be week in week out, but for some reason they haven’t been able to do it.
I’m sure the players they’re going to home go home today believing it works – what he gaffer is telling us is a possibility and it’s something that we need to embrace.
Sunderland 1-0 Manchester City
Goal: Bardsley 21.
Sunderland: Mannone, Celustka, Bardsley, Ki, O’Shea, Brown, Giaccherini (Gardner 72), Larsson, Fletcher (Altidore 77), Colback, Johnson (Borini 87). Subs not used: Westwood, Diakite, Cabral, Mavrias.
Manchester City: Pantilimon, Richards (Zabaleta), Kolarov, Garcia (Navas), Lescott, Demichelis, Milner, Toure, Negrado (Dzeko), Aguero, Nasri, Subs not used: Hart, Clichy, Boyata, Rodwell.