Lucky, lucky Man City rob Sunderland of deserved lifeline
If only Sunderland could have played Manchester City every week this season. The usual 1-0 home win, comfortably the better side for half the Wembley Capital Cup One cup final and, now, desperately unlucky not to leave the Etihad with three points, just as happened in City's Premier League-winning season. - Report: Manchester City 2-2 Sunderland In the obvious and important way, the difference between one point and three points may be academic. Most Sunderland supporters believe their team is already doomed to a drop into the Championship. A win on Wednesday night would certainly have kept hope alive, but that hope would have been a slender one. Yet this was a game only one side truly deserved to win, and that side was the workmanlike one rooted at the bottom of the Premier League, not the richly talented superstars chasing another title that is now slipping as surely from their grasp as top-flight status is from Sunderland's. When Connor Wickham blasted home his second of the night in the 84th minute, I dared to believe a win had been secured. All the better chances had fallen to Sunderland. Lee Cattermole's calamitous loss of possession leading to Fernandinho's second-minute goal had been a blessing in disguise, forcing Gus Poyet's men to push forward. Sadly, another calamity awaited. An 88th minute shot from Samir Nasri, of the kind goalkeeper Vito Mannone has been saving all season, somehow bobbled from his hands and over the line. An equaliser only the most blinkered City fan could have thought merited had been handed to them on a plate. Consider the opening 12 minutes: After Cattermole's clanger -- he seems to do that sort of thing even more often than getting sent off -- Sunderland had the better of the play. John O'Shea should have scored with each of his two headers. Only Adam Johnson's poor first touch, usually so assured, stopped him from scoring an easy goal after City goalkeeper Joe Hart's woefully mis-hit clearance went straight to him. And later, Fabio Borini screwed the ball wide from just the sort of angle from which he put Sunderland ahead at Wembley. Of course, City looked menacing each time they advanced on Mannone's goal. With players of the calibre of the two scorers plus Javi Garcia, James Milner, Sergio Aguero, Alvaro Negredo and Pablo Zabaleta, you would perhaps expect little else. But after calming down enough to eliminate daft, schoolboy-ish errors -- Cattermole again, then Wes Brown and O'Shea -- Sunderland's defence coped rather well. It is fair to say that had the team, as a whole, played more often as the team that performed at the Etihad, they would not be staring the near-certainty of relegation in the face. Such a valiant display is therefore heartening on the one hand, but infuriating on the other. Why on earth could they not have seen this level of commitment, fluency and style against Crystal Palace, Aston Villa, Hull City and others? But if you must go down, it is at least encouraging to go down with a fight. And fight was shown in abundance against City. Wickham will be massively buoyed by his two goals. Johnson knows he repeatedly tormented the defence of his former employers. Cattermole went on to do much more that was good than the thing that was hopelessly bad and so costly. Jack Colback was back at his best in midfield and the crossing from both Johnson and Seb Larsson was exemplary. It was a night to be proud once again to be a Sunderland supporter. The same players have an absolute duty to go Stamford Bridge on Saturday night and give Chelsea the shock of their moneyed lives, too. Poyet's job is to ensure they do. Improbable as survival remains, with the club three points adrift at the bottom and six short of a position of safety with just five games left, the Uruguayan head coach's own self-respect has to make him want to summon superhuman powers of motivation. Until relegation is mathematically conclusive, he needs to drag every scrap of effort and passion from his team. He can start by digging out a video recording of a recent Chelsea vs Sunderland Premier game. Not the 7-2 home win in January 2010 that might well have been 12-2, but the same fixture of the following season just 10 months later. Without top scorer Darren Bent, given no hope by pundits, Sunderland waltzed to a 3-0 victory, easily the best result of Steve Bruce's short managerial reign. And when Poyet has finished drumming into his squad how that game was won, he can produce more recent footage of the 2-1 League Cup win in December, on Sunderland's road to Wembley. The odds are stacked against him, for the very compelling reason that his team have been substandard for most of the season, except when playing in the cups, doing derby battle with Newcastle United or up against Manchester City. But if ever a manager had to keep the faith and plug away until plugging away is no longer enough, he is that man and the time is now.