Manchester City got back to winning ways in the Premier League with a commanding 3-0 win over Sunderland at the Etihad Stadium.
Aleksandr Kolarov’s vicious free kick got the champions off to the perfect start five minutes in, and though they spurned a raft of chances, substitute Sergio Aguero did eventually double the lead on the hour.
It could easily have been a landslide win for the home side, who made it 30 victories in their last 33 home games in the Premier League with the result, but in the end they managed only one more, with Milner’s 89th minute free kick going straight through Mignolet.
City move up provisionally to second after the win, and extend their unbeaten start to the season to seven games with perhaps their most convincing display of the season so far.
Roberto Mancini rang the changes – seven of them from their midweek Champions League match – but most surprising of them was the absence of captain Vincent Kompany.
Mancini subsequently confirmed the Belgium defender was suffering an injury, handing a first start of the season to Micah Richards in partnership with Joleon Lescott.
The nerves were quickly settled as by City racing into an early lead.
Carlos Cuellar, fit from injury and the only Sunderland change to the side which had beaten Wigan last weekend, marked his return with a dreadful sliding tackle on Carlos Tevez.
Kolarov and Mario Balotelli debated who should take the set piece from the left – the Serbian won that battle, then dispatched it left-footed past Simon Mignolet at the near post.
Sunderland, who claimed four points out of six against the champions in the corresponding fixture last year, responded well enough, with Stephane Sessegnon going closest with a half-chance on the volley.
But City’s class told, and as the half wore on they went close on several occasions.
Pablo Zabaleta pounced on a loose ball 20 minutes in, only to see his shot smothered by Mignolet, while Tevez dragged the rebound wide.
Balotelli, victim of some nasty challenges from Craig Gardner, almost turned in a low centre from the right-hand side half an hour in, while Adam Johnson, making his first appearance against his former club, very nearly played in former team-mate Tevez with a terrible crossfield pass.
Sunderland rode out the storm and made it to half time without sustaining further damage.
But despite a spirited start to the second half, with Stephen Fletcher seeing a well-struck volley blocked, it was City who set the pace.
Richards was on the end of every set piece – that he did not end up on the scoresheet owed everything to some desperate goal-line defending from Danny Rose and some sharp saves from Mignolet.
Balotelli had another gilt-edged chance too, but could not get a touch on Kolarov’s low centre just before he made way for Aguero.
Five minutes after his arrival, the Argentine notched his 25th Premier League goal, Kolarov again the provider, with a first-time shot at the near post.
Tevez had further chances, as did the effervescent Kolarov, while David Silva struck the woodwork with Mignolet out of position.
Milner did eventually manage the third, though Mignolet, who had otherwise had a good game, let himself down with the free kick from a narrow angle.
Mancini had insisted in midweek that he knew how to solve City’s problems after a slow start to the season – and on this showing, the Italian was right.
MAN OF THE MATCH
Aleksandr Kolarov (Manchester City) – With not too much to do in defence, Kolarov was given freedom on the wing. Scoring one and setting up another, he was a handful for Sunderland.
MANCHESTER CITY: Hart 7, Zabaleta 7, Richards 8, Lescott 7, Kolarov 8, Milner 7, Barry 7, Yaya Toure 7, Silva 8, Balotelli 6, Tevez 7 - Subs – Aguero 7, Clichy N/A, Rodwell N/A
SUNDERLAND: Mignolet 7, Gardner 5, Cuellar 6, O'Shea 6, Rose 5, Johnson 5, Colback 6, Larsson 6, McClean 6, Sessegnon 5, Fletcher 6 - Subs – Vaughan 6, Saha 6, Campbell N/A