Sunderland: Sergio Aguero scored twice to take his season's tally to 19 as Manchester City maintained the pressure on Premier League leaders Chelsea with a 4-1 win at Sunderland on Wednesday.
Manchester City's Argentinian striker Sergio Aguero celebrates scoring their first goal during the English Premier League football match between Sunderland and Manchester City at The Stadium of Light in Sunderland. Pic/AFP
Manuel Pellegrini's defending champions recovered from going behind to Connor Wickham's early goal as they cruised to a fourth consecutive victory. Aguero, who seems almost unplayable in this kind of form, and Stevan Jovetic put them ahead before the break, with Pablo Zabaleta claiming the third and Aguero rounding off the scoring 19 minutes from time. Sunderland had frustrated Chelsea, holding them to a stalemate in their previous game at the Stadium of Light.
But they had no answer against a City side who preserved the six-point gap between themselves and Jose Mourinho's Chelsea thanks to a seventh victory in their last 11 league games. A different outcome momentarily looked possible as the hosts were rewarded for a bright opening by a 19th-minute goal that owed everything to the determination and persistence of Wickham.
Zabaleta had already hacked a goalbound effort from ex-City midfielder Jack Rodwell off the line when Wickham sprinted on to Sebastian Larsson's return pass into the area. Zabaleta was fractionally first to the ball, but the defender's attempted clearance cannoned off the forward and beyond Joe Hart from 10 yards.
But Sunderland's hopes of recording a Premier League record-equalling fifth consecutive 1-0 home win over City lasted less than two minutes, as the visitors levelled with their first attack after going behind. Jovetic combined with Fernandinho to thread a pass through to Aguero, who easily beat Sebastian Coates, the on-loan Liverpool defender making his league debut for Sunderland.
Zabaleta chips in
Aguero had just one intent as he surged into the area to unleash a powerful right-foot drive from 16 yards that sped beyond Costel Pantilimon and into the net at the former City goalkeeper's near post. With City's stranglehold on the contest increasing, they took the lead six minutes before the interval in a role reversal, with Aguero turning provider for Jovetic.
Yaya Toure launched the move deep inside Sunderland's half with a ball into the area to Aguero, whose deft flick eluded John O'Shea and sat up perfectly for Jovetic to fire his fourth goal of the season past an exposed Pantilimon from 12 yards. Sunderland failed to put anything like enough pressure on the makeshift City centre-back pairing of Dedryck Boyata and Martin Demichelis, who played in place of the injured Vincent Kompany and suspended Eliaquim Mangala.
The hosts were hampered in that aim by the loss through injury of Steven Fletcher early in the second half, after the Scotland forward suffered a back injury in a challenge with Boyata. Any hopes of Sunderland forcing their way back into the contest were extinguished when Zabaleta claimed City's third goal -- his first appearance on the scoresheet since April 10 -- minutes into the second half.
Finding himself on the edge of the Sunderland area, the full-back exchanged passes with Samir Nasri to engineer a clear run through on Pantilimon, who he beat with a calm chip from a narrow angle. City's first win on Wearside in five attempts was complete in the 71st minute.
Substitute James Milner was allowed time to send over a cross from the right, and Aguero lost his marker Santiago Vergini to sweep home the fourth from close range, his eighth goal in seven games. The Argentine was denied a third hat-trick of the season when he was replaced by Frank Lampard for the final 15 minutes, to save his energies for tasks more testing than that posed by the outclassed home side.