Manchester City-Sunderland Preview
By CHRIS ALTRUDA
(AP) -- LONDON (SE) - There were many questions of Manchester City's championship mettle following their home loss to archrivals Manchester United.
So far, Roberto Mancini's side has answered their critics, and City seek a third straight victory Wednesday when they face Sunderland at The Stadium of Light.
Manchester City (11-6-1) saw their unbeaten run in the Premier League end at 21 and their record stretch of dominance at Etihad halted at 37 in their 3-2 defeat to United on Dec. 9. The defeat left the reigning champions six points adrift to their red neighbours, but City have reclaimed two of those points in the subsequent two matches and appear destined to fight nip and tuck with United over the final 20 matches in their bid to repeat.
Mancini's side battled out a 1-0 home victory over Reading on Saturday, with Gareth Barry's header on a cross from David Silva in the 93rd minute rewarding City for an effort in which they held possession for 73 percent of the game and amassed 12 corner kicks and 19 shots. Despite securing the three points, Mancini wants his squad to finish more ruthlessly early in contests to avoid such nervy endings with the potential to drop points.
"I think that we deserved to win but when you are in the last two or three minutes it can be difficult if you don't score in the first half when you have lots of chances," he told the team's official website.
It will be interesting to see if Mancini juggles his lineup once more as midfielder Samir Nasri tries to overcome a groin injury for this match. He also gave teenager Karim Rekik his first start at left back and left defenders Vincent Kompany and Joleon Lescott out of his starting XI.
City have claimed points in all eight of their road matches with four wins and four draws, outscoring opponents 12-6 in those matches and conceding just one goal in the last four while posting two victories and two draws.
When Sunderland (4-7-7) have enjoyed success, Steven Fletcher has been at the centre of it most times, and that again proved to be the case in Saturday's 1-0 victory at Southampton. The Scottish striker dented the net for the eighth time this season, scoring the match's lone goal in the 42nd minute as the Black Cats won for the second time in three matches after a four-match winless spell.
"It was a brilliant result for us and a good performance too," Fletcher told the team's website after moving into a tie for sixth in the league in scoring. "We defended well and if you do that you're going to pick up results, which is what happened."
Fletcher has accounted for 42.1 percent of his team's goals in league play, trailing only Newcastle United's Demba Ba (55.0 percent) and Swansea City's Michu (48.1 percent).
City pulled away for a 3-0 win in the reverse fixture on Oct. 6, when Aleksander Kolarov scored in the fifth minute and assisted on Sergio Aguero's marker in the 60th. James Milner salted away the three points with a goal late in the contest.
Sunderland, though, have claimed points in the last three matches at The Stadium of Light with two wins and a draw, including a 1-0 triumph in last season's corresponding fixture on Dong-Won Ji's goal in the 93rd minute.
Updated December 24, 2012