1-0 (Richards 56)
- Match reports
- Sun 22 Mar 2009, 5:00PM
- Posted by Tim Oscroft
Thursday night’s exertions had taken their toll, with Mark Hughes forced to make several changes. Pabo Zabaleta dropped into left back with Wayne Bridge’s hamstring problem having not cleared up, Stephen Ireland’s troublesome ankle also saw him miss out with Elano returning to the starting line-up. Nigel de Jong was back, and Valeri Bojinov started a game for City for the first time since August 2007. Craig Bellamy was named on the bench.
It was an overcast and blustery day, but with Sunderland bringing around 2,500 fans and City supporters showing their appreciation for Thursday’s European heroics, it all made for a cracking atmosphere. Valeri Bojinov in particular received a big ovation.
The popular Bulgarian was involved in two promising moments around the seven minute mark, firstly finding Elano, who went on a jinking run through Sunderland’s midfield that ended with a pass going just too far in front of Robinho. Within seconds the pair combined again, with Bojinov dinking the ball over to SWP, who burst through the middle and looked certain to score. But it was not to be, his lob over the advancing Fulop just inches off target when an opening goal looked to be a sure thing.
It had been a lively opening, and on 15 minutes the game erupted in controversy as Sunderland were reduced to 10 men. A ball over the top allowed SWP to race towards the box, and as he looked to latch on, George McCartney held him back. Referee Steve Tanner did not give anything initially, but his assistant on the near side flagged for the infringement, and after lengthy consultation the defender was shown a straight red card. Bojinov sent the resulting free kick just over the bar, and as Sunderland reshuffled Murphy was sacrificed for Davenport.
Within two minutes there was even more drama. Malbranque chopped Richards down in the area and Tanner pointed to the spot. Ferdinand, Bardsley and Bojinov were shown yellow cards after a fracas, and eventually Robinho stepped up to take the penalty. The Brazilian performed a stop-start run-up, put the ball to Fulop’s left – and the keeper saved a poor attempt with ease.
Robinho tried to make amends within a couple of minutes, stooping low to get a header in, but Fulop saved with ease. The visitors were now looking to make the most of their fortune, despite their numerical disadvantage, but their best moment so far ended with Given collecting a long-range Jones shot with no alarms.
SWP was causing the reshuffled Sunderland defence problems, and another long run from him on 35 minutes saw a cross-cum-shot roll across the face of goal a couple of yards in front of Bojinov.
Malbranque cannily won a free kick on the edge of our box, but Leadbitter’s attempt went straight into the wall. Elano chanced his arm from long range a few seconds later, but his shot bounced safely up into Fulop’s arms. The rest of the half was fairly uneventful, and as the teams went off at the break the visiting fans vented their feelings at referee Steve Tanner. But they should have been behind and City had 45 minutes to make amends for not taking the lead.
Sunderland’s fans gave Given a hostile reception as he took up his post in front of them for the second half. They were further riled within two minutes when the referee quite rightly showed Davenport a yellow card for ‘simulation’ – i.e. a blatant dive in the area after being hustled off the ball by Dunne. A patient move from City then saw Richards free to cross from the right of the area, but the linesman flagged for offside – replays suggested the defender was a touch unlucky.
We were 10 minutes onto the second half when SWP spurned a good opportunity. Bojinov and Richards combined well and allowed SWP time to shoot, but he spooned the ball well over.
Thankfully it did not matter too much, as City finally took the lead on 56 minutes. Bojinov won a free kick on the right, which Elano floated over. Micah Richards rose above and between several Sunderland defenders to nod the ball back across Fulop, Robinho getting a touch after it had crossed the line. It was Micah’s first goal for City since Goodison Park in September 2006, and just the third of his club career.
And it should have been two within seconds. Micah went on a bullocking run into the area before looking up to find Elano. The Brazilian did the hard work to get past two defenders, but then fluffed his lines badly, rolling the ball just wide of Fulop’s right post.
Bojinov exited to another great reception on 65 minutes, with Craig Bellamy replacing him. The game paused for a while when Bardsley needed attention following a collision with Robinho. The Brazilian collected man and ball going to head a deflected SWP cross, his attempt taking a touch off the former Man Utd defender to go over the bar.
Bellamy was just offside in the 73rd minute, and shortly after he was scythed down by Leadbitter in midfield, the Sunderland player collecting a yellow card for a poor challenge. Richards made another good run into the box on 76 minutes, his chip past Fulop towards Robinho getting cut out by Ferdinand.
Andy Reid was on now, and also saw yellow after mouthing off to the referee. He was in a dangerous position on the left with 10 minutes left, but he was prevented from getting in a shot by superb challenge from Irish team mate Richard Dunne.
The visiting fans had been on Steve Tanner’s case all afternoon, and with nine minutes to go they were screaming for a penalty, convinced Nedum Onuoha had handled the ball in the area. Replays showed that the ball had touched the back of his head. Within seconds the goal scorer was limping off, being replaced by Javi Garrido.
It was still a slender lead, and at a corner just afterwards de Jong was acrobatically clearing a Cisse header. Kompany now looked to be struggling with a hamstring, and he was replaced by Fernandes, who collected a booking with a couple of minutes of coming on for a clumsy foul in midfield.
City relieved the pressure by breaking downfield with two minutes to go, Bellamy going down the left and eventually finding Elano, whose rasping shot brought a fine save out of Fulop. A missed overhead kick by Robinho at the resulting corner summed up a match to forget for the Brazilian striker. Twice in stoppage time he was in dangerous positions, firstly laying off to Fernandes, whose shot was saved. Then he tried for goal himself, Fulop saving again. On both occasions Craig Bellamy was free on the left, and finding him may have been the better option.
The four minutes of time added on could not end soon enough for City fans, but when they did we had our sixth consecutive home league win in the bag. It should have been a much wider margin, but they all count.