Manchester City fans have been scarred by their more recent trips to Sunderland. After losing 3-1 in the first match ever played at the Stadium of Light, on a Friday evening in August 1997, the club’s record on Wearside wasn’t too bad.
They lost their second trip – 1-0 under Joe Royle, this time back in the Premier League in December 2000 after a tour of the football league for three years – and then they found their feet.
The first victory was comfortable. It finished 3-0 to Kevin Keegan’s City in December 2002, thanks to impressive goals from Marc Vivien Foe, Sun Jihai and Shaun Goater.
Stuart Pearce won there next, with Darius Vassell and Trevor Sinclair scoring in a 2-1 victory early in the 2005-06 campaign. Vassell netted on his next trip to the Stadium of Light, too, scuffing the winner into the net after Elano had scored from the penalty spot under Sven Goran Eriksson in 2008.
Mark Hughes took maximum points from Wearside the following campaign, as Stephen Ireland and Shaun Wright-Phillips, making his second debut for the club, scored in a 3-0 win – one of only two matches Hughes’s team won on the road that year. The other was at Everton, another stadium that would be an unhappy hunting ground during City’s most successful era in the Premier League.
It was in March 2010 when Sunderland began their bogey team hold over City, certainly when the Blues were away from home. Adam Johnson rescued a 1-1 draw that match, scoring in the last couple of minutes to equalise after City had dominated but fallen behind, and that preceded a run of four straight 1-0 defeats. The script was ridiculously predictable – the away side dominated the ball and couldn’t find the net, the home side had one chance and scored it. There was often an offside or a foul in the build-up, too.
Roberto Mancini even joked after his third loss there that he’d not be coming back the following season. There was a little irony that he didn’t, after being sacked later that campaign, but even Manuel Pellegrini’s rejuvenated City still lost 1-0 at Sunderland.
Three victories in their last three visits, two in the Premier League and one in the League Cup, should have eased the doubts in supporters’ minds. But it’s amazing what psychological damage can be done in such a short amount of time.
But 2016-17 is different. Sunderland have been atrocious this season – more so than usual – and, while that hasn’t stopped them from taking maximum points from this fixture in the past, there is something more defeatist about their performances this campaign. They sit rock bottom and with one win in their last 11 games.
Pep Guardiola’s City, however, are on the rise. Since being tonked 4-0 by Everton, performances have been much better. They’ve gone on a winning run, with only draws against Tottenham – which really should have been a win, given the number and quality of chances created by either side – and Huddersfield.
Speaking ahead of the match, the manager said he was happy with how his side were playing: “Our decisions, because the build-up is always [taking] decisions influenced by the movement of the opponents, our decisions [are] much, much better.
“For our goalkeepers, Claudio [Bravo] the last game was exceptional in those terms and Willy [Caballero] is also reading much, much better because when the winger press, then man free is the full-back. When the number 10 press, our midfield is alone. So [to] read that needs a process.
“We tried to train and analyse when we are going well why we did it well. When we are not going well, why we didn’t well. And so I think the team is a [getting] better in that terms.
“After that, it’s the spirit – how they run when they don’t have the ball. [The running off the ball is] increasing much better and that makes me confident. But you have to show again in Sunderland and in the next games.”
Despite that improvement and despite the gulf between City and Sunderland in the league table, Guardiola is keen to guard against complacency. Not that the fans will ever get complacent at the Stadium of Light after season-on-season of mental torture there.
The manager added: “Never, never, never when I see a team or analyse a team, do I see the table. Never.
“It doesn’t matter the position they are. I know in that position, they will be more physical and pay more attention because of their situation. Sunderland’s situation is not easy.
“But the people can think we should win. Liverpool and Tottenham should win there and were not able [to]. Every game will be so difficult and so complicated, and [it] will be on Sunday.”
Written by David Mooney
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