Mancini unhappy with Balotelli
Manchester City manager Roberto Mancini claimed he might have substituted striker Mario Balotelli after just five minutes of his side's frustrating draw with Sunderland.
The enigmatic Balotelli may have scored twice but Mancini was frustrated by his fellow Italian's performance as City surrendered two potentially vital points in the title race.
Rivals Manchester United could now move five points clear at the top on Monday and the situation might have been worse for City had they not hit back from 3-1 down to draw 3-3 with two late goals.
It has been another eventful week for Balotelli, who turned up unannounced at an Inter Milan press conference on Monday and Mancini said he could not be trusted.
When asked if he thought about taking Balotelli, Mancini said: "I thought this after five minutes but in the end he scored two goals. He didn't play well. In a game like this the strikers should be the difference - but not in the last two minutes, in the minutes before.
"A player like Mario or (Edin) Dzeko should score two or three goals in a game like this. In this moment we need Carlos (Tevez), a striker who can do different. I want this.''
Balotelli equalised for City from the penalty spot in the first half but later showed frustration when he appeared to argue with Aleksandar Kolarov over who should line up a free-kick with Tevez.
Mancini said: "On the ball it should be Mario and Ali - after they decide who shoots. But it can happen in a moment like today, things like this. It is the last time."
Tevez is still not fit enough to start and was again on the bench while top scorer Sergio Aguero was missing with a mystery foot injury.
Mancini again refused to elaborate on the nature of the Argentinian's problem, although he said some theories in Saturday's newspapers are "not true"'.
He said: "We missed Aguero and for this reason I am disappointed. I hope he can recover for the next game."
Mancini insisted the title race was far from over. He said: "I think on Monday United will probably do a draw and we are always three points behind.
"It is hard but we have another seven games. We have done some mistakes in the last games but also United can arrive in a difficult moment. It is important we are there. Before the derby it is important we recover two points.''
City were pushed back throughout by a hard-working Sunderland side, who scored twice through Sebastian Larsson and once through Nicklas Bendtner.
Mancini said: "I think it is the correct result, a draw, but we didn't do a good performance. I am happy only for the last 10 minutes, for the other 80 minutes I am unhappy because we didn't play very well. I don't know why.
"In the first half we were flat and in a game like this, that is very important for us, we can't be flat in the first half."
Sunderland had already beaten City once this season and manager Martin O'Neill felt they deserved to do so again.
He said: "I thought we played brilliantly today and am obviously disappointed to have dropped some points.
"But first of all, they have won 15 consecutive games here - and we are the first team to take some points off them - and they are also second in the league, so they are a very good team.
"They are never out of the match because they have so many match-winners. I think we got a little bit tired, maybe after the exertions and the disappointment of Tuesday night.
"We seemed to put that aside and performed excellently (at first) but it was a combination of both Manchester City fighting back and us getting tired.''
O'Neill was unimpressed with the award of a penalty against Craig Gardner for a foul on Dzeko.
He said: "I thought initially the referee was going to book their player for diving - but I should have known better. Referees have a really difficult job but I spoke to the referee in the tunnel at the end, and I assume he must have seen it since, and he said it was definitely a penalty.
"That confused me a bit. I didn't think it was and the replays will show that.''