Manchester City and Sunderland drew 2-2 in an enthralling Premier League game on Wednesday, a result with key implications at both ends of the table.
Both sides might now look upon this match as the night their respective dreams finally died, with City in particular highly unlikely to lift the league title. They now sit six points behind leaders Liverpool, who they lost to on Sunday, with only one game now in hand.
Sunderland may never have honestly expected to win at the Etihad Stadium, but after Connor Wickham’s two second-half goals had given them a late lead, they were briefly confronted with the prospect of an unlikely three points in their bid to get out of the bottom of the table.
Instead, Samir Nasri’s late strike—somewhat gifted by Vito Mannone’s mistake—confined them to a heartbreaking point, which means Gus Poyet’s side remain six points adrift of safety with five games to go.
Afterwards, Pellegrini told reporters (via the Daily Express):
We did not deserve to win.
It is not enough because we have Liverpool and Chelsea on top of the table and we needed to add three points—will see in the future what will happen but our chances are less.
The team missed a lot of things, the way we played, the way we defended and our character—we could not take out of our mind the game against Liverpool.
2 - Man City have won just two of their last nine Premier League meetings with Sunderland (W2 D3 L4). Bogey.— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) April 16, 2014
When the game started, though, it looked like it was going to be far worse for the Black Cats.
The hosts desperately needed the victory in order to bounce back from the weekend defeat to Liverpool and keep themselves in the title fray, and it took them less than two minutes to make progress in that regard.
It was a fine goal that broke the deadlock, Alvaro Negredo finding strike partner Sergio Aguero with a great ball before dummying the return pass as Fernandinho ran in and swept home emphatically.
As the clock ticked past two minutes in the contest, it looked like a real thrashing was on the cards at the Etihad.
Sunderland, however, were equally desperate for something from the game in order to keep alive their own flagging hopes of top-flight survival, and it was they who carved out the better openings as the game went on.
John O’Shea somehow contrived to head wide from close range just minutes after Fernandinho’s opener, before Fabio Borini dragged his own low drive wide after virtually being given the freedom of the city inside the Manchester box.
City created occasional openings—with Samir Nasri and Aguero squandering half-chances—but in the main were kept quiet by the visitors, who went into half-time still only one goal in arrears.
The second half initially followed a similar pattern, as both sides were restricted mainly to shots from range—with Stevan Jovetic, who had replaced Aguero, taking many of them.
But eventually Sunderland pounced and found themselves on terms. Wickham’s finish at the far post was relatively straightforward, the tall striker gifted the glorious opening by Emanuele Giaccherini’s whipped cross from the left.
That set up a frantic final 15 minutes, with City (and their fans) suddenly aware that anything less than the victory would surely end their title aspirations.
Jovetic, Nasri and substitute Edin Dzeko all got in dangerous positions but could not find their way past Mannone.
Eventually, though, the goal came—except not for the side that looked most determined to get it.
As Sunderland sprung a rare counter-attack, Wickham made a fantastic run off the last defender. After Giaccherini found him once again with a low pass, he controlled the ball before beating Joe Hart at his near post with a driven finish.
City have played 13 games more than Lpool and it shows. Four big games v Bayern and Barca, so pretty intense fixtures too.— Mark Ogden (@MOgdenTelegraph) April 16, 2014
Suddenly confronted with the unlikely prospect of a win—one that would give them real hope of survival—Sunderland initially held firm defensively, but with only three minutes remaining disaster befell their goalkeeper.
Jovetic’s run into the box and cutback for Nasri was clever, but the shot was straight at Mannone, who nevertheless fumbled the ball and could only watch in anguish as it rolled beyond his outstretched hand and across the goal line.
With a draw of little use to either side, suddenly both sides were bombing forward with impunity. Nasri fired over from a good opening, before Hart did well to claim two Sunderland set pieces after Poyet had sent his central defenders forward.
In the end, neither club could carve out a decisive opening, as the final whistle forced both sides to confront what the result might mean for their ultimate ambitions.
Afterwards, Poyet noted to Sky Sports:
We had a player today in Connor that gave us something we were missing for a long, long time. A couple of goals in one game is something that will give you points.
I don't want to take about individual players or actions, I think the most important thing is the belief of the players; they were calm on the ball and they wanted to show everyone we are a better team than the table shows.
Survival was the challenge from the beginning and it is still possible.
Manchester City now host West Brom next Monday in a game they surely must win, while Sunderland visit Chelsea two days prior in a game of similarly high stakes.