Title blow for City after 1-0 loss at Sunderland

Seven months after winning the Premier League with Manchester

City, Adam Johnson inflicted a blow to his former club’s title

defense by clinching a 1-0 victory for Sunderland on Wednesday.

The England winger, who was considered surplus to requirements

at City in the offseason, embarrassed former teammate Joe Hart with

a dipping strike in the 53rd minute that beat the goalkeeper at the

near post.

The setback left second-place City seven points behind leader

Manchester United at the season’s halfway point.

”We had a lot of chances, we played well, but we didn’t

score,” City manager Roberto Mancini said. ”This is our problem,

we don’t score. We don’t score enough goals to win the game.

”Last year, we scored one, two, three goals every game. Now

when we have chances, we are too soft and this is not good. We are

too soft in attack, too soft when we have chances, too soft when we

shoot.”

Sunderland turned in one of its best displays of the season,

with Hart having to turn away Steven Fletcher’s skidding effort and

keep out Stephane Sessegnon late on.

But Sunderland goalkeeper Simon Mignolet was also alert to deny

Yaya Toure and David Silva before the break, and Sergio Aguero in

the second half as City slumped to a third consecutive 1-0 loss at

Sunderland.

”They are very lucky against us,” Mancini said. “They defend

well, but we need to be stronger.”

City might have been ahead with just eight minutes gone. Captain

Vincent Kompany’s header came back off the crossbar and Yaya

Toure’s goalbound follow-up was hacked away by Mignolet.

Silva curled a 10th-minute free-kick wastefully over the bar and

Toure saw a curling effort plucked from underneath the crossbar by

Mignolet three minutes later.

City was pinning Sunderland deep inside its own half and it

seemed only a matter of time before they made the pressure

tell.

Mignolet had to be at his best once again after Carlos Tevez and

Aguero combined to put Silva in on goal, only for the goalkeeper to

block his close-range effort.

Seconds later Hart had to dive to his right to turn away

Fletcher’s sharp left-foot drive and Sunderland, buoyed after

weathering the early storm, started to force its way into the

game.

Johnson was enjoying the better of his individual battle with

Pablo Zabaleta, who played much of the half with a heavily bandaged

head after suffering a cut, and Sunderland upped the tempo.

The hosts picked up where they had left off in the second half

as James McClean and Johnson stretched City, and they soon took the

lead.

After City manager Roberto Mancini was left appealing in vain

for a free kick for Craig Gardner’s challenge on Zabaleta, Johnson

picked up possession and cut inside before blasting in a dipping

shot that caught Hart flat-footed at his near post and squirmed

into the bottom corner.

Mancini, who absolved Hart of blame for the goal, was angry that

play was allowed to continue by referee Kevin Friend in the run-up

to the goal.

”The referee ate too much for Christmas. He was not in good

form,” Mancini said. ”He and the linesman, I think, after

Christmas, it can happen to have a bad performance like

today.”

Sessegnon might have doubled his side’s advantage soon after,

but pulled his effort across the face of goal with City in

disarray.

The visitors were almost breached once again on the hour when

McClean picked out Sessegnon in front of goal, but the Benin

international could not take the ball in his stride.

Kompany, who had already been booked, was fortunate to escape a

second yellow card for a block on McClean as City struggled to

contain a Black Cats side growing in confidence by the minute.

City gradually regained their composure and started to move the

ball confidently once again and Mignolet had to claim a 68th-minute

Zabaleta cross at his near post after being played in by James

Milner.

The Belgium goalkeeper excelled once again two minutes later to

deny Aguero one on one as deep Sunderland defending prevented City

from finding a breakthrough.