Manchester City 3 Sunderland 3 – March 31, 2012
Sunderland became the first team to claim a point at the Etihad Stadium in the 2011/12 Premier League season – denting title-chasing Manchester City’s perfect record of 15 straight wins.
But the Black Cats headed back to Wearside knowing that they could, and should, have had all three points, after holding a 3-1 lead up the 85th minute.
Sunderland – knocked out of the FA Cup by Everton in midweek – travelled to Manchester expected to be lambs to the slaughter, but, after withstanding early pressure, took a surprise lead just after the half-hour when Seb Larsson passed a shot into the bottom left-hand corner of Joe Hart’s goal.
Craig Gardner fouled Edin Dzeko in the area in the 41st minute to give City a penalty which Mario Balotelli stroked home.
But Sunderland went into the lead still ahead thanks to a great goal from Nicklas Bendtner three minutes into time added on, powerfully heading home Stephane Sessegnon’s right-wing cross.
They extended their lead in the 55th minute with a wonderfully worked goal, Larsson tapping home Bendtner’s right-wing cross, and they preserved their advantage up until five minutes from time when Balotelli scored his second with a fine, individual effort.
Full-back Aleksandar Kolarov then powered in a low rocket from range to level it up.
Two-goal midfielder Larsson says the real Sunderland stood up against City. “That was more like us,” he said.
“We showed, as we have quite a few times in the last few months, that we are a team who can play quality football and can give the top teams a game.”
Larsson revealed the players were on a mission at the Etihad to lay the ghost of their damp squib cup exit.
“We wanted to show pride in our performance,” he told the Echo.
“We started the game really well and I think that’s important at grounds like City’s.
“We were told before the game to take care with the ball, to hold on to it in the first five minutes, make good touches.
“We were told ‘get your confidence and you will find space’ and that’s what happened because we’ve got the players who can do that.
“We showed we can be a good team.
“The dressing room afterwards was full of disappointment after the game and I guess that tells its own story.
“We came to the Etihad, scored three great goals and more importantly, we showed what we could do on the ball.
“It was important because we were so disappointed by the way we played against Everton in the cup.
“We didn’t pass it or handle it well in that game, but we bounced back with our display against City and showed how good we could be in possession.”
Larsson was disappointed, though, that Sunderland could not have held on for victory because he felt it would have been deserved.
“We played well and at 3-1 up we felt comfortable,” he said.
“We didn’t think they were hurting us, but then sometimes there’s nothing you can do when the opposition scores a penalty and two shots that come through bodies in the area.
“You have to give them credit for getting back into the game, but we didn’t think that was going to come in the last few minutes.”