JOLEON Lescott was mesmerised by Asamoah Gyan’s footwork at Wembley.
The England defender was sent into a hypnotic daze at the sight of Gyan’s quick feet before the Ghana ace ghosted past him with embarrassing ease and curled the ball perfectly into the far corner of Joe Hart’s net.
Lescott will be wary of similar humiliation when the ex-Everton man faces Sunderland striker Gyan again, five days on from Tuesday night’s international friendly.
Manchester City boss Roberto Mancini has been robbed of the services of three prominent defenders with injured pair Micah Richards and Jerome Boateng joining the suspended Kolo Toure in the stands.
The return to training of Pablo Zabaleta offers some respite although Mancini may still need to include one of rookie pair Dedryck Boyata or Wabara Reece in his starting XI.
Lescott will therefore be relied upon to keep City’s makeshift back four as a cohesive unit and certainly must do better when up against a striker who will have been suitably boosted by his Wembley heroics.
Gyan has not been at his best in Sunderland’s three successive blanks.
The club’s record signing was far too laid back in his approach at Arsenal and fared little better against Liverpool – although admittedly the supply lines were close to non-existent.
Gyan’s lofty self-confidence will have been suitably caressed by sending more than 20,000 of his countrymen into ecstasy on Tuesday night and will doubtless be keen to perform similar heroics on another big stage.
Fortunately from Sunderland’s point of view, Gyan was suspended for Ghana’s African Cup of Nations qualifier 48 hours earlier so fatigue shouldn’t be a factor either.
Gyan will be the key man in trying to prize open a City backline with the second best defensive record in the Premier League. Despite the heavy investment in attacking flair, City are not afraid of hanging on for a 1-0 win – the outcome in three of their last five outings.
After Sunderland’s 350 minutes without finding the net, City will be favourites to do so again and Gyan must ensure there is enough to keep the City backline occupied while the runners break from midfield.
The make-up of that midfield will be an intriguing selection from Bruce, particularly whether it consists of four or five.
There will be a temptation to partner Gyan with Danny Welbeck after the on-loan Manchester United striker was another to receive a boost from Tuesday’s friendly.
But it would be a risk, particularly after five defeats out of six, and the more likely scenario is for Sunderland to line up in the same formation they used to success at Arsenal with Welbeck on the left-hand side of a midfield five.
With Sulley Muntari and Lee Cattermole both fit, the pair could well be deployed together in a solid base with Stephane Sessegnon or Jordan Henderson used as the most attacking of a central midfield trio in place of the injured Kieran Richardson.
It will aid Sunderland’s cause if groin injury victim Carlos Tevez misses a second successive Premier League outing with City badly missing the Argentine in their last game at Chelsea.
But there remains enough threat from the likes of Adam Johnson, David Silva, Mario Balotelli and Edin Dzeko to snatch the odd goal to hand City victory.
The last time Sunderland went to Eastlands, it marked the end of Mark Hughes’ reign as boss.
While anything other than a win could spark a similar outcome for Mancini if it costs a Champions League spot, it may be Sunderland’s defensive lapses rather than City’s defensive absentees that prove decisive.
Verdict: Home win