Welcome to Granadaland for FOOTBALL.
Simple, straightforward, say-what-you-see, does-what-it-says-on-the-goggle-box titling. Life would be so much simpler if television stations flagged up their fare in this no-nonsense, old-school manner. QUIZ. CELEBRITY TALKING PROGRAMME. EXPLOITATIVE AMATEUR SINGING. I'd watch. The practice could be rolled out to other walks of life. The supermarket, for example, where one could purchase GIN, GIN DILUTER and RAZOR. Don't worry, though, Samaritans, there'd be no danger of slipping into a blue funk, because the theme tune to FOOTBALL is by Herb Alpert.
The second stanza of that theme tune - The Magic Trumpet by Herb Alpert and his Tijuana Brass, go on, give it a whirl - is peppered by a jaunty xylophone trill. It's the sort of music perfect for footage of clumsy buffoons desperately trying to stay on their feet as they perambulate down a pavement covered in marbles while carrying two buckets filled with water. Oo-er, don't spill a drop! And it could quite easily have soundtracked Manchester City's travails last March, when they lost at Swansea City, only just beat Chelsea at home, drew at Stoke, and then dropped two more points at home to Sunderland.
City scrambled a desperate point in that Sunderland game. The Black Cats were 3-1 up with five minutes to play, thanks to two goals from Seb Larsson and Nicklaus Bnedtner, but Mario Balotelli and Aleksandar Kolarov both scored in a 60-second blast, and the spoils were shared. At the time, it looked like the jig was nevertheless up for City - especially as Manchester United won at Blackburn Rovers a couple of days later to go five points clear, and Roberto Mancini's side were to capitulate at Arsenal the following weekend. It seemed like Sunderland - who had also picked City's pocket on New Year's Day with a late goal from Ji Dong-Won - had done as much as anyone to ensure the Premier League trophy stayed at Old Trafford.
But no. That didn't happen, did it.
Still, City will be wary of taking their opponents today for granted, and not just because Sunderland took them for four points last season. Martin O'Neill's side are unbeaten, with striker Steven Fletcher scoring goals for fun. City meanwhile have only won once in their last six matches, have let in 18 goals this season, and made a nine-course tasting menu of their last home match at the City of Manchester Stadium, a deserved 3-1 win over QPR, but one which wasn't quite as easy as it should have been.
This, therefore, promises to be quite an event as the English champions look to get their (relatively) shaky start to the season back on track. The match kicks off at 12.45pm.
Manchester City, who are without captain Vincent Kompany: Hart, Zabaleta, Richards, Lescott, Kolarov, Milner, Toure, Barry, Silva, Tevez, Balotelli.
Subs: Pantilimon, Nasri, Dzeko, Aguero, Rodwell, Clichy, Toure.
Sunderland, starring former City winger Adam Johnson, make one change with Carlos Cuellar replacing Titus Bramble, effectively an extra man: Mignolet, Gardner, O'Shea, Cuellar, Rose, Johnson, Larsson, Colback, McClean, Sessegnon, Fletcher.
Subs: Westwood, Campbell, Kilgallon, Vaughan, Meyler, Bramble, Saha.
Referee: Lee Probert (Wiltshire)
Right here, right now, right here, right etc. The teams, soundtracked by the cutting-edge sounds of 1999, take to the stage. They shake hands, smile, and we'll be off in a wee minute or two. Anyway, MBMs don't have enough Golf Satire for my money. Golf Satire, anyone? "Ah Scott," sighs Roy Allen. "After the most wonderful sporting event imaginable last weekend, you're now back to mundane reality in the shape of diving, pouting, flouncing millionaires 'performing' in front of baying, seething mobs. (Actually, there are some similarities.) After 40+ years of dedication I'm on the verge of falling out of love with football. I seem to spend more time reading legal documents than match reports, assessing players on the basis of their morality rather than their footballing ability. Year by year the soapy suds of the Premier League get more and more depressing. Is this the game to pull me back from the brink of desertion?" Let's hope so. I could do with a five-goal thriller, and with the possible exception of Liverpool, City are the most unpredictable (read porous and currently a wee bit hapless) side in the league. Make us believe again, people. Make us believe.
And we're off! City get the ball rolling, in front of a not-particularly-full-looking City of Manchester Stadium. Perhaps there's a big queue at the pie stand. Do people still queue at pie stands at football? With their rattles? And ration coupons?
2 min: A fairly shapeless beginning to the match, although it's worth noting that Sunderland have enjoyed as much possession as the champions so far.
3 min: Cuellar is booked, and rightly so, for a preposterous scythe from the side on Tevez, as the City striker looks to break into the area down the inside-left. That could so easily have been a red card. Studs were showing, and it was a full-pelt nonsense of a challenge. Clumsy, bordering on oafish.
5 min: GOAL!!! Manchester City 1-0 Sunderland. Aleksandar Kolarov had to wrestle the ball off Mario Balotelli - some things never change - in order to take the free kick. And how right was he to do so? Quite right. He curls a powerful effort around the left-hand side of the Sunderland wall, and into the top-left corner. It's not quite tight in the corner, but it would be harsh to criticise Mignolet, who did his best to get to the brilliant shot. What a start for City!
8 min: Toure flicks a pass wide left to Balotelli with the outside of his boot. It's this close to releasing the Italian along the wing, but the ball zips out of play. City are looking bright, and up for this.
10 min: Sunderland are looking sunny enough themselves, though. Fletcher and Sessegnon combine down the right. They cut back, and Larsson is upended 35 yards from goal. The ball's lumped witlessly into the area by Johnson, but the ball breaks to Sessegnon on the edge of the box, to the right of the D. The striker looks to stroke a Le Tissieresque lazy volley into the top left, but he overcooks it a wee bit. That's a great effort, though, and proof that Sunderland won't be lying down after their dismal start.
13 min: Sunderland force a corner down the left. To the sound of concern - i.e. silence - Larsson sends the ball towards the near post. McClean can't quite control. If he'd managed a softer touch, there'd have been trouble for City there. The ball flies out for a goal kick. "In your picture is Balotelli actually sticking his thumb on his chin and waggling his fingers while going 'Nah nah nee nah nah'?" asks Robin Hazelhurst. "Unbelievable. A grown man missing his nose by a good two inches from that range. Or is it just an Italian version of thumbing the nose? In other news I like the campaign for no-nonsense straight-talking, but I don't think 'Gin Diluter' should be allowed - isn't it just a euphemism for what should more accurately be called 'More Gin'?" More Gin? That's a high-quality, premium brand of gin. You can't be diluting that with Gin! Drink it straight,
before like a single malt.
17 min: City can't quite get anything together at the moment. Balotelli takes it upon himself to shake things up, with a shimmy inside from the left, then a ludicrous piledriver from 35 yards which goes within 35 yards of the goal. To be fair, it was worth having a hack from there, because nothing else was happening, and it may wake up City's sleepy players and fans.
19 min: Yaya Toure decides to move with extreme prejudice down the left wing. He's not far from busting through three challenges and steaming clear, but he's eventually robbed of the ball and the move comes to naught. Signs however that City are picking up their game again. "What has happened to Cuellar?" wonders Mark Judd. "I recall watching him play for Rangers v Sporting Lisbon in the Europa League and it was virtually him against them. He had a magnificent game. Looking at him now, he does appear, as you say, oafish." Yeah, he was great for Rangers. To be fair, he's not played much since moving south, periods on the bench and the treatment table. I would say he should never have left Ibrox, but, well, y'know.
21 min: Tevez, on the edge of the area, slips a ball down the inside-right channel for Zabaleta, who finds himself one on one with Mignolet! The keeper Schmeichels himself well to parry the close-range shot. Tevez comes back at Sunderland down the inside-right, dragging a low shot right across the face of goal and out on the left. Zabaleta, level with the left-hand post, isn't far from connecting with the fizzer with his toe. But Sunderland survive. Credit also to Mario Balotelli, who contributed bugger all to that move, but appears to have shaken his team-mates out of their torpor with that daft nonsense on 17 minutes.
24 min: Gardner pushes his boot into Balotelli's face, just to the right of the Sunderland D. An accident, with the City striker looking to turn the defender in a cheeky fashion, but a free kick in a very dangerous position. Kolarov wins his second row with Balotelli, having earned the right to take the set piece with that goal a wee bit earlier. His effort, aimed towards the top left, is obvious and deflected out for a corner. "Perhaps next time there's a free kick, Balotelli should pull up his shirt to display the message 'Why not me?'" suggests Ben Bamford, apropos exactly this sort of incident.
25 min: City's corner comes to naught. "Football Scott, Football!" chirps Gary Naylor. "It's the best it's been for 25 years! Ask any Evertonian. Actually, there is a case for football being more interesting this season than for a while. The key is to just watch the games and ignore all the noise." All the noise? Ah, you'll miss us when the internet finally kills All Journalism. Won't you? No! Don't say that!
27 min: Sessegnon looks to release Johnson down the right - the winger is in acres - but his attempted Hollywood ball flies over San Francisco instead. Shame for Sunderland, as City's defence was looking threadbare there.
30 min: Milner earns himself a yard down the right. He zips the ball into the centre, where Gardner clears under intense pressure from Balotelli. Corner. From which Kolarov, at the edge of the area, flays a hopeless effort miles into the top-right corner of the stand behind the goal. Kolarov's shot happy today. He's turning into an ersatz Balotelli.
34 min: A long lull is broken when Tevez jumps on a poor pass inside by Gardner, advances on the Sunderland area, and takes a wild whack that's deflected out for a corner on the right. From which ...
35 min: ... the ball lands at Balotelli's feet on the edge of the area. The Ersatz Kolarov tries to guide the ball into the top right, but isn't too accurate. I hope you weren't expecting a goal.
37 min: City are beginning to turn the screw, though. A diagonal ball from the left finds Tevez, eight yards out level with the far post. He belabours the ball straight into the ground, instead of dispatching it into the unguarded left-hand side of the net, as was surely his intention. Sunderland clear.
38 min: A rare sortie for Sunderland. Fletcher, currently in the middle of a goal-happy spell and not to be taken lightly, takes the ball up down the inside-right channel and sends an effort goalwards. It's not much, to be honest. Hart is right behind it. He had enough time not only to throw a cap on the ball, but also to draw a smiley face on it. Maybe a couple of snaggled teeth, too. And a pipe.
41 min: Tevez skedaddles down the right and earns himself a corner. Milner and Silva exchange passes not once but twice. Eventually the ball's shuttled inside to Barry, who has a welt from the edge of the box, just to the right of goal. Which is exactly where his straight-as-an-arrow effort stays as it flies out of play.
43 min: From the centre circle, Yaya Toure arrows a low pass out wide left to Balotelli, who is in position to tear clear of the Sunderland back line. Problem is, he's already started doing so before his team-mate spotted him, and the chance to launch a dangerous mission on the Sunderland box is spurned, as he's foolishly caught offside. Sunderland have been distinctly unimpressive here.
45 min: Colback is the only Sunderland player who sounds a bit like a comedy scriptwriting technique. He's also the only Sunderland player who is constantly looking to break into the City half. He bombs down the middle with purpose, then finds Sessegnon down the right. The ball's worked back to Larsson, who curls a high ball into the area. McClean attempts to take the ball down, but only shanks the ball out wide to Sessegnon, who is caught miles offside. That's a whole load of description for not very much, but it's probably helpful in so much as it illustrates that Sunderland have actually turned up. Sean Boiling wishes to refer to minute 38 and Joe Hart sketching a face on the ball: "He's an Erstatz Tom Hanks. Wilson! WILSON!"
HALF TIME: Manchester City 1-0 Sunderland. And that's that for the half, one aimless Tevez slash and another pointless Fletcher waft apart. City will probably consider themselves unlucky not to be two goals in front at least, on the balance of play, but they've not actually forced Mignolet into too much action, so for all that Sunderland have been poor, one goal is probably about right.
HALF-TIME PROG-ROCK WIGOUT:
Granada get rid of Herb Alpert, and introduce Elton Welsby. The slow decline of football coverage in the region begins.
And we're off again! No changes to either side. City take an aeon to leave the tunnel, as Yaya Toure isn't ready. Sunderland have to mill around on the pitch for two or three minutes looking rather embarrassed. Or perhaps the red faces are a result of extreme irritation. Who knows. Once City are in situ, Sunderland get the ball rolling. Not much of an atmosphere at this particular moment, but the stands are at least full at the start of the half this time round. "For some reason it takes ages at the moment to get into the Etihad," explains Daniel Green. "I had the same problem on Wednesday."
47 min: Sunderland have started this half well. First Johnson goes on a purposeful meander down the right. Then Larsson sprays a ball from a central position to Fletcher on the left, just inside the area. The striker's first-time volley isn't on target, or strong enough, and charged down. Larsson screws the rebound miles wide left of goal from the edge of the box. "Elton Welsby," writes Ben Stanley. "Blimey. That takes me back. Did he ever sue Steve Coogan for breach of intellectual property?"
50 min: And now City come straight back at Sunderland. Yaya Toure cuts inside from the left and belts a rising shot straight at Mignolet. The keeper pushes the howitzer over the bar. From the corner on the right, Richards guides a weak header goalwards from eight yards, but the ball balloons back at him and he directs a shot towards the right-hand side of goal. Rose is on the line to head clear, quite brilliantly. This is a wonderful opening to the half.
52 min: I wonder if Martin O'Neill has spotted a kink in the City defence? Wouldn't take too much squinting, I suppose. Sessegnon, down the inside right, sends a diagonal ball to Fletcher, who has the better of Richards and powers a header towards the left-hand side of goal. It's a great effort, met majestically by Hart's dive, though the striker's flagged, correctly, for offside. Great football all round.
54 min: Johnson goes after a sliderule pass down the inside-right from Sessegnon. He looks like breaking clear into the area, but Kolarov sticks out a leg and guides the ball away from the winger. Sunderland are really testing City's back line here.
56 min: Kolarov flies down the left and zips a low ball straight through the Sunderland area. Balotelli, sliding in, is this close to extending his leg at the far post and toe-poking home. The crowd gasp in wonder mixed with mild frustration. And then applause, as Balotelli is replaced by Aguero.
58 min: The occasionally hapless Cuellar is at it again, conceding a needless corner down the right. From that corner, a bit of jazz noodling, and another corner eventually comes. And from that one, Richards towers to plant a header towards the top left. Mignolet leaps acrobatically to pluck the powerful effort from the air. This match doesn't have the feel of a 1-0 any more.
60 min: GOAL!!! Manchester City 2-0 Sunderland. And there you have it. Kolarov gains a yard down the left, chasing after a clever ball by Silva. He whips the ball to the near post, where Aguero sidefoots powerfully into the left-hand side of the net. Chalk one up for Roberto Mancini, for that's quite a substitution.
62 min: Sunderland respond to the goal instantly, albeit only in terms of rejigging their personnel. Rose is off; Vaughan comes on.
63 min: City have the confidence on now, and they're first to everything. Sunderland had done their bit to the fast opening of this half, but they're second to everything at present.
64 min: Silva is beginning to pull the strings, yanking Sunderland all over the shop. An exquisite flick down the inside-left channel releases Barry into the area, but O'Shea is over quickly to lump a no-messing clearance upfield before the City midfielder can fashion a shot from 12 yards. Great last-ditch defending, but what a clever little dink by Silva.
67 min: Silva diddles in from the right. It looks like he's shaping to shoot, but instead he plays a cute reverse pass down the right for Aguero, whose subsequent shot is deflected out for a corner. Silva undoes all his good work with a godawful corner. Still, it's hard to criticise the Spanish international, who has been outstanding today.
68 min: It's not been much of a return for Adam Johnson, who goes off to be replaced by Saha. Johnson is applauded for his efforts as an erstwhile City employee; the Sunderland striker is given the bird for his time at Old Trafford.
69 min: From the centre, Aguero slips a ball towards the right for Tevez, who scampers towards the box and unleashes a low shot just wide left of goal.
70 min: This is all City now, the home side rampant. Aguero once again releases Tevez, down the same channel. Tevez gets to the ball ahead of the outrushing Mignolet. He's too wide on the right to shoot, allowing the keeper to get back up and make his life difficult. Instead of trying an outrageous curler round the keeper, Tevez rolls the ball back to the edge of the area, where Silva shapes a sidefoot onto the crossbar. So unlucky.
72 min: A corner for Sunderland down the right. Fletcher meets it with his head, albeit in rather uncertain fashion. The ball's nevertheless looping towards the top left, but Hart manages to claw it out. The keeper is then clattered by Sessegnon. City escape themselves.
74 min: This is real end-to-end stuff, albeit with most of the action at one end. That's not really end-to-end, then, is it. Anyway, it's a corner to City now. From the right, Richards meets the ball ten yards out and crashes a header towards the left-hand top corner. Mignolet is right behind it to parry clear. The defender could easily have a brace, but Sunderland's last-ditch scrambling has been of a high quality.
75 min: Another corner for City. Richards, perhaps as a satirical gesture, now goes for goal with an overhead kick. Satire is so 1961, though.
77 min: Aguero dances down the inside-left channel on tippy-toes. If football's ever been working-class ballet, that was it right there. Amazing balance, strength and delicacy. The Darcey Bussell of soccer. He eventually flicks the ball forward to Tevez, who hesitates slightly as he enters the box ahead of O'Shea, who along with Cuellar manages to clear.
78 min: Yaya Toure tangles with Colback as he enters the Sunderland area from the left, and claims a penalty ... but no. Nope.
80 min: Fletcher has a frustrated slapshot straight at Hart from the edge of the area. He's scored in every match so far this season, and with a Scotland recall coming up, now look what's happening. Bah!
81 min: Colback is booked for a late clatter on Unidentified City Player. It didn't look like much, to be honest, and the City fans couldn't even be bothered to howl in outrage, but he's in the book.
83 min: Sessegnon is replaced by Campbell.
84 min: Gardner romps down the inside-right channel and sends a rising shot goalwards. Lescott gets his nut in the way, deflecting the ball wide right for a corner. From which nothing comes. Sunderland look spent, but apart from a couple of sorties at the start of this half, they've looked spent since the five-minute mark.
86 min: Tevez is replaced by Clichy. Kolarov comes in from the left and has two belts at goal. Both are charged down. The first, by Gardner, is a hand ball, but the player was so close, and with his back to goal, that a penalty would have been an absurd decision. The second goes out for a corner, from which nothing happens.
87 min: City are just stroking it around the back now, letting the clock run down.
88 min: City spring upfield all of a sudden through Kolarov, who is upended on the left-hand edge of the box by Gardner. That's a booking. Given the defender kicked Balotelli in the face earlier, you could argue he's lucky to be staying on.
89 min: GOAL!!! Manchester City 3-0 Sunderland. Milner hammers a rising, curling shot towards the goal. The ball takes a light brush off the top of the hapless Gardner's head, and flies between the confused Mignolet's hands and into the roof of the net.
90 min: Rodwell comes on for the superlative Silva.
90 min +1: There will be three added minutes of this. Aguero should have scored in this, the first of them, but after twisting, turning and procrastinating in space on the edge of the box, he hits his shot straight at Mignolet, who gets a fine, strong hand to stop the ball flying into the net.
90 min +2: Sunderland don't give up a chance during this minute, which is probably worthy of note.
FULL TIME: Manchester City 3-0 Sunderland. And there you have it. The champions were superb today, certainly in the second half. Not at the top of their game by any means, but pretty damn good nevertheless. They're now a point behind leaders Chelsea, for a couple of hours at least. But that's exactly the sort of performance City needed, after a few erratic ones. As for Sunderland... well, it's the international break, so that's something, isn't it?