City somehow clawed their way back into a game they seemed certain to lose with a dramatic 3-3 draw at the Etihad Stadium against Sunderland.
The visitors led 3-1 with just five minutes remaining and looked assured of three points but the Blues scored twice in the space of 69 seconds through Mario Balotelli and Aleksandar Kolarov to salvage an unlikely point.
Earlier in the game, Sebastian Larsson scored twice and Nicklas Bendtner also found the net with City’s only consolation being a Balotelli penalty as a first home defeat seemed on the cards.
There are bad days at the office and there are really bad days at the office – this, unfortunately, for most of the match, was the latter - and then some, but the fighting spirit needed for the final weeks was at least evident in the dying moments of a strange 90 minutes.
Now City will have to rely on Manchester United dropping points in their remaining games with the Blues no longer masters of their own destiny
...City 3 Sunderland 3
Like every game the Blues have on their run-in, this was a match that had to be won.
With the national media obsessed with who will win the battle of mind games, who is cracking under pressure and speculating who will eventually lift the Premier League crown, it was vital City sent out a message with a confident display, but there was just something missing on this occasion.
In Sunderland, the Blues were up against a team who have prospered under Martin O’Neill’s reign, but were still reeling from a surprise midweek FA Cup quarter-final defeat to Everton.
The Black Cats were also responsible for City starting the 2012 with a defeat following Ji Dong-Won’s last-minute winner at the Stadium of Light on New Year’s Day.
With Sergio Aguero and Samir Nasri both ruled out with injury and Joleon Lescott still side-lined, Roberto Mancini at least had the boost of Vincent Kompany returning from a calf injury. James Milner was drafted into midfield while Kolarov was preferred to Gael Clichy at left-back.
It was the visitors who carved out the best chances early on with O’Neill’s men clearly fired up, attacking in numbers and looking a totally different side than the one that limped out of the FA Cup.
City, it seems, are everyone’s cup final these days and that’s something we are clearly going to have to get used to, but few visiting teams will play better at the Etihad this season.
Craig Gardner should have given the Wearsiders the lead on 16 minutes after an intricate three-man passing move saw him fire wide from six yards. It was a warning that would go unheeded.
The Blues were struggling to find any rhythm or fluency and it was no real surprise when Sunderland finally went ahead, Larsson placing a low drive past an unsighted Joe Hart on 31 minutes to silence the vast majority of the 47,007 crowd.
With the frustration from the crowd emanating down to the players, every 50/50 challenge in the box was greeted with cries for a penalty and two minutes before the break, referee Phil Dowd finally agreed and pointed to the spot when Edin Dzeko’s fine run was brought to an unceremonious end by Gardner.
Balotelli stroked home the penalty for his 16th of the campaign with an effortlessly cool shot, but City, clearly not at the races, then conceded a second in first-half injury time with Bendtner allowed to rise unchallenged from the impressive Stephane Sessegnon's cross to make it 2-1.
It was going to take a special second-half to get the Blues back on the rails with the driving force surely the thought of an unthinkable six-point gap opening up if City lost and United won this weekend
...City 3 Sunderland 3
Micah Richards, seemingly suffering from the effects of a nasty collision of heads before half-time, made way for Adam Johnson and Milner filled in at right-back as Mancini shuffled his pack, looking for a winning hand.
Yet within ten minutes of the re-start, the Blues were 3-1 down following poor defending during a Sunderland break that resulted with Larsson tapping home from close range. It was a hammer blow for City’s title aspirations and one that would that it was hard to see the hosts coming back from.
Yet as the clocked ticked towards full time, Balotelli showed what a precocious talent he can be with a stunning individual goal to give his team a glimmer of hope and barely a minute later Kolarov powered home a low shot from 25 yards to bring the Blues level.
With the home fans baying for a winner, City poured forward in search of a fourth goal, but time finally ran out on what would have been a truly incredible turnaround. It was certainly two points dropped and we now must wait to see if Blackburn can raise their game in the same way Sunderland did in this game.
If they can, this might yet prove to be a vital point.