Will the real Manchester City please stand up?
Devastating, irresistible and unstoppable at home, the Sky Blues’ form on the road is on par with the teams in the bottom three after yet another galling defeat on the road, this time at Sunderland.
Phil Bardsley’s controversial 21st-minute goal proved enough for a team that started – and ended the day – second from bottom in the Premier League.
Road trips are following a depressingly familiar pattern with City dominant in possession but prone to the odd lapse in concentration that ultimately proves to be their undoing.
And given the results elsewhere over the weekend, this was a chance spurned by a team who need to find a way of winning away from the Etihad quickly.
At a ground that has increasingly become a venue the Sky Blues leave empty-handed from, there was plenty of cause for concern pre-match - and nothing that happened in the first 45 minutes suggested this visit would end any more happily for the visitors.
Sunderland began with ten men behind the ball every time City came forward, but there was no fluidity about Manuel Pellegrini’s side who looked languid in possession and with no real intensity to their approach play.
Sebastian Larsson was lucky not to see red with an awful tackle on Javi Garcia in the early exchanges and referee Mike Dean was again lenient in the build-up to the game’s opening goal as Phil Bardsley appeared to push James Milner over as the pair chased a long ball and Bardsley, suddenly unopposed in the box, finished with a low drive Costel Pantilimon couldn't keep out.
That came in the 21st minute but the much-changed City rear-guard had looked shaky on several occasions prior to the goal – understandable given the absence of the Vincent Kompany and Matija Nastasic and the fact Joleon Lescott and Martin Demichelis were playing alongside each other for the first time.
The Sky Blues’ best opportunity came when Aleksandar Kolarov whipped in a fine cross that found Aguero free in the six-yard box but his header went just the wrong side of the post with the goal gaping.
City were much better in the second half with Jesus Navas replacing Garcia and laid siege to the hosts’ goal. Navas should have levelled when Aguero pulled the ball back but his shot was blocked at point blank range by Bardsley just a yard off the line.
Aguero, not looking like the player who has been in red-hot form for the past few weeks was guilty of a couple of misses he’d normally gobbled up, though he produced one moment of quality with a turn and shot that brought a fine save from the home keeper as the game edged towards its seemingly inevitable conclusion.
Sub Edin Dzeko fired a powerful shot in just moments after coming on that the Mannone parried out but Aguero sent the rebound wide – it was turning out to be one of ‘those’ afternoons where the scalp of City made the home side play like their lives depended on it.
As the minutes ticked by, it became evident that no matter what happened, the equaliser just wasn’t going to happen and the Stadium of Light jinx was going to remain intact.
Pellegrini must find a cure to his team’s travel sickness soon because four points from a possible 18 is not the form of a team challenging for the title.