Aleksandar Kolarov’s spectacular free-kick and cute assist earned Manchester City’s first back-to-back wins of the season after the Premier League champions dispatched Sunderland comfortably.
The Blues took less than three minutes to break the deadlock at the Etihad Stadium when set piece specialist Kolarov proved his worth before Sergio Aguero doubled their lead in the second half with a close-range tap in.
And with 80 seconds left of the game James Milner drove home a free-kick straight down the Sunderland keeper’s throat to bank all three points for City in their 3-0 victory.
Carlos Cuellar was booked following a wild lunge on Carlos Tevez just outside the Black Cats box and Kolarov’s third goal from a set piece this season gave City the perfect start, much to his delight.
“We’ve been disappointing defensively this season but we dug in and thoroughly deserve that clean sheet,” the Serbian fullback told Sky Sports.
“I knew that Mario [Balotelli] could score from the free-kick so I talked to him and told him I was going to score and I did.
“It was important for us to win this game we knew that are very good team and I think we deserve to win – but we could have scored more goals.”
The early strike banished any sign of nerves for the Blues against the side who took more points off them than any other team last campaign.
And Roberto Mancini’s swap on the hour mark had an instant effect as Aguero converted a smart cross from Kolarov after just two minutes on the field.
Despite being forced into late winners and equalisers in their past four ties, City’s no-nonsense stature was unrecognisable from their recent performances and Joleon Lescott praised his teammates for keeping the pressure on leaders Chelsea.
“It was important we started from the front and players like Carlos [Tevez] have come in to help our attack,” said the England centreback.
“Our for hasn’t been consistent but results have, and we’re looking strong now.
“We’ll come back after the international break stronger from this.”
Micah Richards could have marked his first game of the season with a goal but an off-the-line clearance from Danny Rose and superb athleticism from Simon Mignolet kept him at bay after the restart.
Minutes later Balotelli was inches away from poking in his second goal in as many games before he was hurled off to make way for substitute Aguero.
City sat back and managed possession early on, only kicking into gear in the 20th minute when Pablo Zabaleta’s point-black shot was blocked by Simon Mignolet’s mighty physique.
Two minutes later a high boot from Craig Gardner on Balotelli gave the Citizens another free-kick in an inviting position – but this time Kolarov’s strike could only find the head of Seb Larsson.
The Premier League champions ended the first half comfortably in control – despite Mancini’s pre-match grips about the FA and Sky’s fixture schedule.
Gareth Barry, making his 550th club career start, protected City’s vulnerable back four to hold off Sunderland’s only league scorer of the season Steven Fletcher from stretching his fine finishing to five consecutive games.
As the Blues pushed forward their weakness at the back was closer to being exploited by Martin O’Neill’s men as Adam Johnson, making his first return to Eastlands since leaving this summer, and Fletcher linked up to show their offensive intent.
But the Wearsiders never came close to posing any real danger to Joe Hart’s goal as the titleholders looked a far cry from a side that had only one win in six before today.
And after failing to stop their opposition from scoring since their league victory against Newcastle in May, Mancini will have taken positives from seeing his men cut off Sunderland’s attacking threat.
“I think that we today we had a very good performance we didn’t take any risks, we scored three goals but it was not easy because Sunderland are a good team and it was difficult,” said the Italian.
“I think everyone played well, if not it is impossible for us to win.
“Aguero was fantastic, he scored one goal and another chance and it was the first time for our clean sheet so I was very happy.”
Aguero was close to grabbing his first brace of the campaign in injury time but Mignolet’s strong left hand saved the North East side from an unfair defeat as City strolled their way up to second place in the table.