Manchester City might be due a welcome break when it comes to the lifting of football hoodoos in and from the North East of England.
Just as Manuel Pellegrini’s champions suggest they are able, ready and more than willing to retain their Premier League title, they lose their influential on-field leader and travel away to their bogiest of bogey sides.
Captain Fantastic, Vincent Kompany is ruled out of the annual away defeat to Sunderland as City try to shed some light as to how they contrive to lose 1-0 year after year after year after year on Wearside.
City usually generate plenty of possession against the Black Cats – 70%+ – but deliver output akin to a 15watt bulb as they consistently squander points against Gus Poyet’s side.
Having seen a 17-game, nine year unbeaten run against the Mackems’ not so nearest and dearest rivals, Newcastle United, come to a painful Capital One Cup end, it’d be comforting if City can slay their Sunderland jinx.
Manuel’s much maligned men have a new found momentum following three consecutive wins over Swansea, Bayern Munich and Southampton.
The precious Premier and Champions League points are all-important, but it’s the manner of the victories that has City’s fans sensing they may have turned the proverbial corner.
Putting three goals past Southampton’s defence – the stingiest in the league – aligned to the sheer exhilaration of unexpectedly overhauling Bayern Munich in the final five minutes, has confidence coursing through City’s veins.
Belief, class and pragmatism should – theoretically – be enough to see City grab a fifth away win in eight road trips…but that maxim has been applied four times previously and four times found wanting at Sunderland.
The last time they won at the Stadium of Light was back in August 2008, when Stephen Ireland and a brace from Shaun Wright-Phillips on his ‘second City debut’ secured a 3-0 outcome for Mark Hughes’ City.
Little did we know that just 24 hours later the blue side of Manchester was to set out on an unprecedented upward trajectory, courtesy of a hitherto unheard of investor – an Arab chappie called Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan.
Perversely as City’s fortunes rose, so began the onset of a decidedly less than impressive run when visiting Sunderland Association Football Club. A solitary 1-1 draw is the sum total of positivity extracted during HHSM’s reign.
City are handicapped by the ongoing loss of David Silva, Aleksander Kolarov, Edin Dzeko, the suspension of Eliaquim Mangala and the newly inflicted hamstring injury to Vincent Kompany.
Martin Demichelis will be a key figure as he takes charge of a backline where he is likely to partner either Dedryk Boyata or Bacary Sagna.
Matija Nastasic is missing with a ‘thigh muscle’ injury, but it’d be no great surprise if the Serbian central defender never makes another first team appearance, prior to an almost inevitable January exit to Italy.
Despite the new buzz of anticipation around the Etihad, City know Sunderland will be a real test and not just because recent history is against them.
Humiliated 8-0 by Southampton a few weeks ago, the same set of Wearside warriors came within a whisper of beating Chelsea at the weekend.
Instead they took a 0-0 draw, and with it great heart.
Add three ex-City players in the shape of Costel Pantilimon, Jack Rodwell and Adam Johnson into the mix – all with a point to prove – and you have a potent concoction.
It’s ironic that the 2-2 draw on a dismal Wednesday night at the Etihad last April, acted as a springboard for City’s title success and Sunderland’s relegation survival fightback. It felt like the polar opposite at the time.
Whether or not the home supporters will be as accommodating, courteous and magnanimous on Wednesday as they were at the Capital One Cup Final remains to be seen.
In an astonishing show of respect and sportsmanship, thousands of vanquished Sunderland fans lined the upper walkways around Wembley to clap celebrating City fans.
The magnificent gesture was met with reciprocal applause from City’s followers in the true spirit of the ‘football family’. It may sound corny and have many reaching for the sick bags, but it happened en-masse to the eternal credit of Sunderland’s disappointed support.
For the second time in four days, City have to leave hordes of home supporters bedecked in red and white stripes feeling that they have witnessed the champions of England, both present and in waiting.
City’s sharpshooters need to bombard their ex-teammate and see if Pantilimon can cope with a barrage from the likes of Aguero, Jovetic, Yaya, Lampard…even ‘Goal’ Clichy!
Super Frankie will be on the prowl for his 175th Premier League goal, which would move him level in 4th place with Thierry Henry in the all-time scoring list.
The revitalised and re-focused Yaya will be looking for a PL hat-trick with a twist, as he attempts to score in three consecutive PL games for the first time. In contrast, Sergio, the man with an insatiable goal appetite could be facing a third duck if he doesn’t paste one in past Pants.
The indefatigable James Milner has scored five times against Sunderland, the most against any PL opponent, so no need to stop now.
It’s time for City to neutralise their nemesis and push on with their assault on the pinnacle of the Premier League.
There’s not much City fans hanker for following the Abu Dhabi takeover, but a PL away win at the Stadium of Light would make many a bucket list this week. That’d be the same bucket City want to avoid kicking for a fifth time at their version of The Stadium of Fright!
By David Walker
At the risk of sounding like a radio ‘disc jockey’ of yesteryear, this article also doubles up as a birthday dedication to Steve White, a man who has served Queen & Country, is a regular life-saver and ‘yomps’ 400 miles up hill, dale and motorway every time he goes to see his beloved Blues. Happy Birthday Bro – here’s hoping Manuel and the boys give you a gift-wrapped three points tonight.
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