MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - MARCH 31: Manchester City Manager Roberto Mancini gestures during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester City and Sunderland at Etihad Stadium on March 31, 2012 in Manchester, England. (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
One point forward, two points backwards. A stirring comeback it may have been and ultimately the point that was rescued may prove to be crucial but yesterday looks likely to prove a watershed moment in the 2011/12 Premier League race. Was it the performance that had been building over the past few weeks? Whilst the away troubles have been well documented, the home streak continued apace. Eventually though, the two collided and the first half yesterday the bore the traits of recent way form: a lack of impetus, a lack of creativity and above all a lack of intent. The audible tension from the crowd that added to a nervy atmosphere would have been quelled with an opening goal (which so often leads to the win) but once Sunderland got the lead City never managed to take control.
Perhaps the most surprising aspect yesterday was the defensive performance. The offensive woes - principally away from home - are well documented but it was the defence that was most culpable yesterday. Vincent Kompany returned to the line-up but there was little resistance to the tests they faced and having conceded just four goals in he first half of games this season City shipped two in the opening forty-minutes. Credit should be given to Sunderland for their attacking intent (and their clinical play in front of goal) but City were too slow to react - both initially and at the crucial point - on all three goals; a rarity given their solid play over the course of the season.
Hindsight is a tremendous asset to have and post-game there has been plenty of criticism of Roberto Mancini's team selection. He was not helped of course by injuries to both Sergio Aguero and Samir Nasri but ahead of the game I expected Yaya Toure to play as an advanced midfielder to utilise the drive he adds to the attacking game. Further to this, this move would have assisted the off-form David Silva and not left the attack so isolated (Mario Balotelli and Edin Dzeko has just 38 touches between them in the first half). This would likely then have seen Gareth Barry start in midfield, which may well have prevented Sunderland breaking with quite the ease they did. David Pizarro may have only featured briefly during his spell at the club but the quality he brings to the passing game is an asset that can also be used far more. Plenty to ponder for Mancini during the week ahead.
In the three games that Carlos Tevez has featured in since his return to the side City have managed to recoup five points from losing positions. This spell though has seen City drop four points in three games and whilst Tevez has played his part in helping to recover losing positions, the intent surely was that Tevez's role (if required) was to turn draws into wins; to get those important wins - not help snatch a point that in the cold light of day serves City little purpose.
City are of course far from out of the Premier League race. Having the game against United affords them an opportunity to make up plenty of lost ground but with City's next game on Sunday against Arsenal, United now have two games in which to extend their lead to eight points by the time City next take the field. Given their consistently ruthless displays of late it is hard to argue otherwise that this will be the case but the reality is that City need United to now drop points in at least one of the forthcoming pair of games.