Sunderland 0-1 Manchester City: In-form Sergio Aguero downs Black Cats
By Richard Morgan
Last Updated: 03/02/16 6:30am
Sergio Aguero scored the winner as Manchester City beat Sunderland 1-0 at the Stadium of Light to remain on Leicester City's coattails at the top of the Premier League.
The Argentine was in the right place at the right time to stab home the only goal of the game after just 16 minutes.
That strike was enough to keep Manuel Pellegrini's side just three points behind the top-of-the-table Foxes, while the Black Cats remain four points from safety in the relegation zone after this latest loss.
Boss Sam Allardyce handed defender Lamine Kone his Sunderland debut, with Jan Kirchhoff also making his first start in central midfield, although the club's two other January signings - midfielder Wahbi Khazri and striker Dame N'Doye - both started on the bench.
His opposite number, Manuel Pellegrini, opted to reward Kelechi Iheanacho for his hat-trick against Aston Villa in the FA Cup fourth round on Saturday by starting the young striker, with Raheem Sterling having to settle for a place on the bench.
However, the Chilean was still unable to call upon likes of Fabian Delph, Kevin De Bruyne, Vincent Kompany, Eliaquim Mangala, Wilfried Bony and Samir Nasri through injury for the trip to Wearside.
And it did not take long for the visitors to make the breakthrough as Aguero continued his recent good form in front of goal by scoring his 18th goal of the season, and his sixth in his last four games for the club.
Spain winger Jesus Navas drove a rather hopeful cross cum shot across the Sunderland penalty area, with the ball falling nicely at the feet of the deadly striker, who made no mistake with a toe-poked finish from close range past a helpless Vito Mannone.
But if that early strike was meant to calm City nerves, it actually did the opposite, with the home side going on to enjoy the best of the opening period.
In fact, the Black Cats really should have been level at the break after new-boy Kone somehow headed Jeremain Lens's inch-perfect free-kick past Joe Hart's right-hand post from just eight yards out when it seemed easier to score.
Meanwhile, Jermain Defoe also went close to drawing his side level, but after turning Nicolas Otamendi in the box, Hart produced a sensational one-handed save to keep out his low shot, before right-back Billy Jones struck the outside of the post from the rebound.
Allardyce introduced another new signing at half-time, with Tunisia international Khazri replacing the injured Lens, and the attacking midfielder from Bordeaux turned in an eye-catching display in the second half to rouse the home team.
However, despite enjoying the lion's share of possession in the second period and restricting their multimillion-pound opponents to rare forays on the break, Sunderland just could not find a way past City's inspired 'keeper.
The England international's best save though came 12 minutes from the end when diving full length to turn behind Jones' well-struck shot from outside the area.
And from the resulting left-wing corner, the Black Cats were unlucky not to score when captain John O'Shea blazed over the bar from just six yards out.
When Hart was finally beaten, however, Otamendi was there to clear the impressive Kirchhoff's injury-time header off the line as Sunderland pushed for a deserved equaliser that never came.
Sunderland: Mannone (7), Jones (8), Kone (7), O'Shea (7), Kirchhoff (8), Van Aanholt (8), Lens (7), Cattermole (7), M'Vila (7), Borini (6), Defoe (7)
Used subs: Khazriat (8), Johnson (6), N'Doye (6)
Man City: Hart (9), Sagna (6), Otamendi (7), Demichelis (6), Clichy (6), Fernandinho (6), Toure (7), Jesus Navas (6), Iheanacho (5), Silva (6), Aguero (7)
Used subs: Sterling (6), Kolarov (6), Fernando (7)
Man of the match: Joe Hart