SUNDERLAND suffered a first defeat on the road since October after finishing on the wrong side of 16-minute, five-goal blitz at Premier League champions Manchester City.
Frank Lampard’s winner, to become the fourth highest scorer in Premier League history, ruined what had been a stirring fightback from Gus Poyet’s side, who found themselves two goals down at the Etihad.
After an utterly turgid first half, City went ahead just before the hour mark following a stunning long-range strike from Yaya Toure.
When Stevan Jovetic doubled the hosts’ advantage with a clever flick, it looked to be game-over for Sunderland.
But after Jack Rodwell pulled one back against his former employers, another ex-City player, Adam Johnson netted a second from the penalty spot three minutes later.
However, Sunderland’s joy was short-lived after substitute Lampard - allowed to play after agreeing an extension to his City contract 24 hours earlier - headed home within two minutes to cap a stunning quick-fire spell of scoring.
After a five-game absence, Jack Rodwell was handed the defensive midfield role in the Black Cats line-up, with Lee Cattermole ruled out through a groin injury and Liam Bridcutt still recovering from concussion.
It was one of only two changes to the Sunderland side, with Will Buckley replacing Steven Fletcher - a switch which saw Connor Wickham move into a central role.
Seb Larsson was passed fit after suffering an ankle problem at Villa, while there was a place on the bench for Cabral.
England stopper Joe Hart was only among the substitutes for Man City, who included Yaya Toure after he had been an injury doubt.
Fit-again Stevean Jovetic fired a couple of yards wide of the near post in the second minute after a fortuitous richochet off John O’Shea down the left-hand side of the area.
But that was not a sign of things to come, with Sunderland comfortable sitting in their own half for and soaking up the minimal pressure which City managed to exert.
It wasn’t until a short corner in the 20 minute that City worried the Sunderland goal again, when David Silva fired a yard wide after an almighty scramble in the Black Cats box.
City continued to be frustrated by Sunderland’s dogged defensive shape though; Silva resorting to letting fly with a shot from 25 yards in the 32nd minute which was pushed away by Costel Pantilimon.
It took until four minutes before the interval for Sunderland to produce their first effort on goal when Larsson’s free-kick from 25 yards was turned away well by Willy Caballero, low to his right.
HALF-TIME Manchester City 0 Sunderland 0
The second half began in the same fashion as the first, but out of nothing, City went ahead in the 57th minute after a screamer from Toure.
Jovetic laid it back to Toure 25 yards out and the midfielder unleashed a thumping right-footed shot from 25 yards which rocketed into the top corner at the near post.
The goal opened the game up, with a second arriving for City in the 67th minute when Gael Clichy got free at the left-hand by-line and his low cross was met by Jovetic at the near post, whose clever flick beat Costel Pantilimon.
Sunderland went straight up the other end, with substitute Emanuele Giaccherini producing an angled right-footed shot from the edge of the area which was turned away by Caballero before Eliaquim Mangalla booted the rebound behind.
From Larsson’s resulting corner, Rodwell met it at the near post six yards out and guided a header into the far corner.
City went straight up the other end , with Jovetic’s back-heel picking out the overlapping Jesus Navas, who smashed a shot against the outside of the near post.
But Sunderland were spurred on by their goal and equalised in the 71st minute after a brilliant piece of skill by Alvarez on the right-hand by-line.
Alvarez’s cross deflected off Caballero to Billy Jones at the back stick, who was clipped by Pablo Zabaleta after bringing the ball under control 10 yards out.
Johnson stepped up and sent Caballero the wrong way from the penalty spot for his third in four games.
However, the goal rush wasn’t finished and City regained the advantage in the 73rd minute when Clichy’s cross from the left picked out the head of substitute Frank Lampard, who had been allowed too much room by Wes Brown and planted his header into the bottom corner.
Lampard then almost added a quick-fire second with a half-volley from just inside the area which was pushed away high to his left by Pantilimon.
The former England international had another effort with 10 minutes to go when he met Zabaleta’s pull-back at the near post, but his shot was parried away by Pantilimon.
Navas then a shot to put the game to bed when he got in behind the Sunderland defence, but his low right-footed shot was turned onto the roof of the net by Pantilimon.
City had yet another chance to seal it in the 86th minute when Silva picked out Fernandinho, in space 10 yards out, but his shot was turned away yet again by Pantilimon.
Substitute James Milner then thrashed Aleksandar Kolarov’s cross over the bar in stoppage time.
FULL-TIME Man City 3 Sunderland 2
MANCHESTER CITY: Caballero, Zabaleta, Mangala, Demichelis, Clichy, Yaya Toure, Fernandinho, Nasri (Kolarov 85), Silva (Milner 90), Navas, Jovetic (Lampard 70). Subs not used: Hart, Sagna, Sinclair, Boyata. Booked: Nasri (51), Zabaleta (71)
SUNDERLAND: Pantilimon, Vergini (Coates 78), Jones, Brown, O’Shea, Rodwell, Larsson, Gomez (Giaccherini 58), Johnson, Buckley (Alvarez 65), Wickham. Subs not used: Fletcher, Cabral, Altidore, Mannone. Booked: Jones (17), Larsson (34), Brown (88)