For a while there, we seemed to hold a bit of a spell over Manchester City whenever we played them at home, and on this day back in 2013 the Citizens came unstuck – making it four defeats in a row at the Stadium of Light.
Under the stewardship of new manager Gus Poyet, the team looked revitalised and re-energised after what had been a miserable start to the season.
In Poyet’s first home game – our ninth fixture of the season – we got our first win on the board; against Newcastle, naturally enough. This win seemed to give the team a noticeable lift as performances certainly improved – and Sunderland looked far more solid at the back than they ever did under previous Head Coach, Paolo Di Canio.
After Poyet took a pragmatic approach to the Newcastle fixture in terms of style of play, this was the first time the Stadium of Light witnessed Poyet’s possession-based approach. And, while under decent pressure throughout, Sunderland showed a steely determination and doggedness to earn the result.
This determination was personified by two men who were rehabilitating from two very different situations.
Wes Brown – making his first start after almost two years out injured – and the formerly ostracised Phil Bardsley – who Poyet had immediately recalled when he was appointed – came together to score the all-important goal for the home side.
After soaking up early pressure from City, Sunderland struck with what would turn out to be the defining moment of the game. Wes Brown picked the ball up in his own half, and curled a 60-yard ball into the left hand side of the City box. After getting around James Milner, Bardsley – who was playing left back – curled the ball past future Sunderland keeper, Costel Pantilimon.
Milner may argue he was fouled, but Bardsley’s determination rewarded Sunderland for some patient, intelligent possession, as the five-man midfield clearly heeded Poyet’s instructions to ‘take much better care of the ball’.
The noise in the Stadium of Light was electric when the ball went into the net – and Poyet looked like a man who could hardly believe we had scored.
From this moment on, it became a theme of keeping City out and hoping to catch them on the break.
Soon after the goal, Aguero had a clear chance to level on the half-hour, but he headed wide from close range after some slick City build-up.
Sunderland defended strongly throughout – with John O’Shea and the Brown particularly impressive.
Brown’s ability to build play from the back certainly helped our new style of play.
Serious knee problems had resulted in the former Manchester United centre half lose two years of his career – at one point he resorted to controversial sugar injections in the joint and later talked Di Canio out of cancelling his contract and retiring him. Unsurprisingly. he played as if on a mission to make up for lost time.
It seemed far from a coincidence that his reappearance coincided with Sunderland’s first clean sheet of this league campaign.
Though City had their chances, we seemed to grow in confidence as the game went on and, try as they might, City simply couldn’t find a way through the newfound solidity in the Sunderland defence.
The attacking supply lines to Alvaro Negredo and Sergio Agüero were frequently severed. Touré and Javi García appeared increasingly frustrated after being repeatedly denied room for manoeuvre by the influential Ki, adroitly screening his back four, and the almost equally impressive Jack Colback.
As the game came neared its conclusion, each touch by a Sunderland player was greeted by loud cheers by the home crowd – as was the final whistle.
Poyet’s men deserved this, and they celebrated it like a team who were in it together.