Adam Johnson landed a Boxing Day blow to his former club’s Premier League title hopes by scoring the only goal as Sunderland beat Manchester City 1-0 at the Stadium of Light.
Helped by a Joe Hart error, the former City winger’s effort crept in at the near post to give the Black Cats a famous win at home to the champions in an otherwise nondescript affair.
City piled men forward late on, with Hart twice coming up for corners, but Sunderland could have snatched a second as they deservedly went 13th, well clear of the drop zone.
The result means City slip seven points clear of leaders Manchester United, who won 4-3 win at home to Newcastle United.
The first half was a poor spectacle, although Sunderland did work their way back into it after City opened strongest.
Vincent Kompany, returning to the team after injury, hit the bar with a header with Simon Mignolet saving well from Yaya Toure on the rebound, with the Belgium goalkeeper then making himself big to deny the otherwise anonymous David Silva after a lovely run and cut-back from Sergio Aguero.
Sunderland were struglling to get on the ball, with their midfield lacking a natural ball-winner, so a switch to a more direct tack focusing on their strength in width was the correct decision midway through the first half.
That saw Johnson, Sebastian Larsson and James McClean become increasingly influential, as Matija Nastasic and Kompany made some timely interventions from their dangerous crosses.
Hart also made a fine stop from Stephane Sessegnon, with Sunderland actually ending the half in the ascendance as Larsson wasted a potentially dangerous free-kick on the edge of the box after pulling rank over Craig Gardner, a similarly skilled set-piece taker.
The pattern continued into the second half as Sunderland threatened from wide, and it was one such ball from Johnson that put them ahead.
Whether it was a cross or shot is debatable, but a certainty was that Hart should have done a lot better when his former team-mate’s driven low ball squirmed inside the near post off his outstretched arm.
City complained that Pablo Zabaleta had been fouled in the build-up, but it was Hart’s fault and there was still plenty of time for the late-show specialists to at least get an equaliser.
But it never came, despite the visitors chucking the ball – and bodies – up front. Indeed, Sunderland had the better chances as Sessegnon put one effort just wide before forcing a smart save from Hart as the City defence parted to biblical proportions.
City did have some half-chances, Mignolet again doing well to deny Aguero after the Argentine sprung the offside trap, while Carlos Cuellar and Danny Rose put in some excellent blocks to cap off a fine reargaurd action by the hosts.
The introduction of super-sub Edin Dzeko had little impact as he struggled to impose himself on the game, and final act of desperation saw Roberto Mancini throw Joleon Lescott on as an auxilliary forward, Mario Balotelli not deemed fit for the bench after recovering from the flu.
That left gaping holes at the back, which Sunderland should have exploited when substitute Fraizer Campbell shot weakly at Hart from a good position, before – deep into injury time – McClean greedily went for goal when a simple square ball would have given Sessegnon a tap-in.
Hart tried to atone for his error by coming up for a succession of late corners but the deliveries were poor and Sunderland held on for a famous win which lands a huge blow to City’s title ambition.
MAN OF THE MATCH
Simon Mignolet (Sunderland): Both keepers made a string of fine saves but Mignolet gets the nod on account of not gifting the opposition the match with an error.
SUNDERLAND: Mignolet 8, Gardner 7, Rose 8, Kilgallon 7, Cuellar 8, Larsson 7, Colback 6, Johnson 7, McClean 7, Sessegnon 6, Fletcher 6; Subs: Bardsley 6, Campbell 6
MANCHESTER CITY: Hart 5, Kompany 6, Zabaleta 6, K Toure 6, Nastasic 6, Y Toure 6, Garcia 6, Silva 5, Milner 6, Aguero 7, Tevez 6; Subs: Dzeko 5, Lescott N/A, Barry N/A