Barclay’s English Premiership
Saturday 19 December 2009, 15:00 KO
City: Given, Richards (Zabaleta 22), Onuoha, Touré (c), Sylvinho, Barry, Ireland, Wright-Phillips (Kompany 53), Bellamy (Petrov 86), Tevez, Santa Cruz
Unused: Taylor, Adebayor, Weiss, Robinho
Goals: Santa Cruz (3, 69), Tevez (pen 11), Bellamy (34)
Booked: Zabaleta, Given
Referee: Andre Marriner
Man of the Match: Craig Bellamy
After such a poor performance in midweek, City needed a victory to pick themselves up and get themselves back into winning ways. Mark Hughes dropped two of his big names, Robinho and Adebayor, after their no-show performances at White Heart Lane, showing the manager’s displeasure.
And it was a great start for the home side, with Bellamy reaching the by-line and crossing low for Santa Cruz to knock home inside three minutes, leaving the defence and goalkeeper stranded and putting City ahead.
Eight minutes were on the clock when City got the chance for their second. Bellamy was bundled over in the box as he tried to cut inside and, after a delay while the referee cut out any encroaching, Tevez slotted the penalty away.
It should have been an easy task for City to go on to win from this position, but City never do things the easy way. Sunderland got themselves back into the game with two quick corners – the second being their most dangerous, as, after a clearing header and with Richards down injured, John Mensah was gifted a free header and found the net.
The visitors could have gone level a few minutes later, but Sylvinho was in the right place to dive in front of a Darren Bent effort, deflecting it over the bar, after the Sunderland man latched onto a superb Shay Given save.
Sunderland continued to press and got their reward in the 25th minute. City failed to clear another corner from the visitors and, after everybody missed it, Jordan Henderson smashed it in from ten yards.
But, ten minutes later, City were back in front. Pablo Zabaleta, on for Micah Richards, chipped the ball over the Sunderland defence for Wright-Phillips, who checked back superbly and crossed low into the box. Santa Cruz dummied it and Bellamy smashed it into the net.
City could have made their position safer before half time as Stephen Ireland broke, but, when he might have taken the shot on himself, he chose to pass the ball square. It was too far in front of Tevez, though, and too far behind Bellamy for either to get a shot in.
The first real action of the second half saw some fantastic interplay between Craig Bellamy and Gareth Barry, before the former found Tevez in the box. The Argentinian turned and forced a good save from the Sunderland keeper. Bellamy then took a shot from the left side of the box, but it was just wide of Fülöp’s far post.
Sunderland then pulled level once again, in, perhaps, controversial circumstances. Santa Cruz looked to have been fouled but there was nothing doing from the referee, as Sunderland cleared the ball. Given then cleared out of play and, after a delay for an injury, the throw in was taken ten yards further forward. A low cross into the box was then met by Kenwyne Jones, who made it 3-3.
With 65 minutes on the clock, Zabaleta was free in the Sunderland box, but his shot was just wide of the near post, with Fülöp unsure as to where it was headed.
Three minutes later, though, and City were back in front once again. The ball broke for Barry in the box and his cut-back, past Marton Fülöp, left Santa Cruz with the easiest of finishes, getting his second and City’s fourth of the game.
With 73 minutes on the clock, City could have given themselves a second two-goal advantage as a free kick from Gareth Barry fell to the unmarked Vincent Kompany at the back post. But it was a difficult volley and he sliced it back across the box, minutes after he had hit a long range shot just over the bar.
Two minutes later, Henderson tried to make it even again, but his shot was well wide of Given’s right hand post, before Kompany had another go for City from range, but that never troubled the goalkeeper.
With just over five minutes to go, Ireland took a shot on the volley after some good work by Santa Cruz and Tevez, but it was well saved by Fülöp, who touched it over the bar for a corner.
As the game moved into stoppage time, Michael Turner clashed with Gareth Barry in challenging for a header and caught him with a flailing arm. The referee, who had just punished a similar foul from Lee Cattermole with a yellow card, produced a red card and sent the Sunderland defender for a (slightly) early bath.
It was a good win for City, though it should have been more comfortable than it was. It turned out to be City’s last win with Mark Hughes in charge, the City manager waving a goodbye to the fans at the end of the game, before news broke that he had been sacked in favour of Roberto Mancini.