Manchester City's Aleksandar Kolarov leads easy dispatch of Sunderland

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Manchester City moved above their neighbours in the Premier League table by recording their fourth win of the season and, at long last, their first clean sheet, though it is probably true to say most defences would end up feeling better about themselves after playing the timid travellers of Sunderland. It was certainly a different exercise to trying to keep Borussia Dortmund at bay, almost a different ball game. There might be no easy games in the English league, or so everyone keeps saying, but some games are vastly less demanding than others.

Roberto Mancini made wholesale changes after what he described as a poor performance in midweek, bringing back Joleon Lescott and Micah Richards in the centre of defence and recalling Carlos Tevez and Mario Balotelli in place of Sergio Agüero and Edin Dzeko up front. Though City's Champions League reviews were mostly dominated by Joe Hart's goalkeeping heroics it did not escape the manager's notice that several excellent opportunities were squandered by home strikers at the other end. "We had three or four incredible opportunities and I don't know why we didn't score," Mancini said.

Sunderland are not quite up to Dortmund standards and this was ponderous, running-through-treacle stuff after the high-speed pressing and precision on show on Wednesday, but it only took a few minutes for City's returning front two to make their mark. Balotelli played Tevez into an enormous amount of space, Carlos Cuéllar was rightly booked for bringing him down as he attempted to access the penalty area, and from the free-kick Aleksandar Kolarov handsomely beat Simon Mignolet with a shot over the wall that the goalkeeper could not reach.

City should have had a second when Pablo Zabaleta found himself with a shooting opportunity on the halfway line but could only hit Mignolet, then Balotelli, after twice being floored by overzealous challenges from Craig Gardner, shot over the bar from close range following James Milner's cross from the right.

Upon reaching the interval without further damage Sunderland stirred themselves briefly at the start of the second half, with Adam Johnson finally showing up on his return to the Etihad with a decent run down the right and a good cross, and Steven Fletcher lining up a close-range volley that required Richards to make an athletic block.

Johnson did not have the happiest of afternoons, complaining of sickness and coming off before the end and, as Martin O'Neill revealed he was still vomiting in the dressing room after the game had finished, the winger may not be in the best shape to join up with England this week. City still came closest to scoring the next goal, however, when Yaya Touré forced a save from Mignolet following David Silva's clever backheel, before Balotelli read Kolarov's low cross from the left correctly but narrowly failed to make the important contact.

That was the end of the Italian's involvement, Agüero replacing him for the final half-hour, and exactly on the hour the substitute struck with the sort of deadly composure that had been missing in midweek. Silva fed Kolarov down the left, the full-back supplied one of his stock low crosses, and Agüero's first-time finish from the six-yard line had the ball past Mignolet before the Sunderland defence had properly woken up to the danger.

If Balotelli was upset at being hooked, and he did not appear best pleased, at least he could not argue with the upshot. "I am happy with Mario, he played a good game," Mancini said, despite his striker appearing to disappear straight down the tunnel instead of joining the rest of the squad on the bench. "I don't know why he did that," the City assistant coach David Platt said. "He doesn't normally."

Tevez missed a great chance and Silva struck the bar as the game descended into a turkey shoot at the Sunderland end. Milner finally added a third a minute from time with another direct free-kick from just outside the area, though by that stage everyone was beginning to wonder what would happen should City somehow manage to concede in the closing seconds. Mancini would have been furious, but Sunderland never put the matter to the test.

Hart's next game will be against San Marino, and this was ideal preparation. "We should have done better than that," O'Neill admitted. "We were well beaten by a superior team, but I'm still unhappy about us giving the ball away too easily. City are always going to punish you for that."

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