Ji-Dong-Won’s 93rd minute winner gave Sunderland a dramatic one-nil victory over top of the league Manchester City in a pulsating finale to a thrilling New Year’s Day fixture.
Roberto Mancini’s City arrived on Wearside looking to take advantage of Manchester United’s defeat a day earlier and move three points clear of their rivals at the top of the Premiership, but a rejuvenated Sunderland side proved a surprise package.
Just four minutes had passed when from a City corner, Stephane Sessegnon played Nicklas Bendtner through one on one with Goalkeeper Joe Hart who saved well- and Sessegnon himself should have scored with a second half chance.
City saw a lot of the ball but faced a determined and organised Sunderland defence with goalkeeper Simon Mignolet magnificent.
Edin Dzeko and Micah Richards came closest for the blues both hitting the crossbar either side of the break, whilst City’s Sunderland born winger Adam Johnson threatened throughout but failed to find a way to goal.
And Man City’s efforts were to count for nothing when with just seconds left to play Sunderland broke free with Martin O’Neill shouting attack from the touchline.
Substitute Ji played a one-two with Sessegnon on the edge of the City box finding himself with only City keeper’ Hart to beat. The Korean rounded Hart before tapping the ball into an empty net sending fans, O’Neill and no doubt a relieved Sir Alex Ferguson into delirium.
The result makes it three wins from five games for Sunderland under O’Neill moving up to 13th in the table. Whilst Mancini will be ruing his sides missed chances as City have now failed to score in their last two games.
Sunderland’s injury problems pushed O’Neill into making four changes to the team that drew with Everton.
Mignolet replaced Keiron Westwood after two months out. Craig Gardner came in as make shift right back for the injured Phil Bardsley, Jack Colback filled in at left back for Kieran Richardson who fell ill and James Mclean was handed his first start in red and white.
Man City’s fixture pile up lead to Mancini leaving star men Sergio Aguero and David Silva on the bench and Mario Ballotelli was given the day off.
The first half started slowly but the first big chance of the game fell to Sunderland.
A Man City corner was cleared by Gardner with Sessegnon picking up the pieces before playing Bendtner through on goal just past the half way line. He took the ball wide hoping to round Hart in goal for the blues, but had his effort smothered and the chance had gone.
Shortly after City had another corner which was played short then given back to taker Johnson, he came close whipping a curled shot towards goal which clipped the roof of the net- almost reminiscent of the goal he scored at the Stadium of Light two years ago.
Wes Brown was withdrawn through injury to create further problems at the back for Sunderland. Matt Kilgallon replaced him at centre back making his first appearance of the season.
Edin Dzeko then forced a great instinctive save from Mignolet. Pablo Zabaleta gave the ball to Johnson out wide who weaved his way into the Sunderland box.
His shot was weak but took a deflection leaving Dzeko with a chance from just three yards out which he poked towards goal. Mignolet pounced instantly to keep the scores level.
City then piled on the pressure. Samir Nasri was next to come close as he saw his low goal bound shot brilliantly cleared off the line by the stretching Gardner.
In a ten minute period of dominance from Mancini’s men, another corner left Dzeko with a shooting chance from the edge of the box but the Bosnian could only find the crossbar with his fierce drive.
Gardner’s 45th minute long range effort had fans out of their seats but just missed the target to bring an end to the first half.
Mancini strengthened his attacking personnel bringing on Aguero and Silva at the expense of Nigel De Jong and Nasri following his side’s first half blank.
The second half started at a quicker pace than the previous 45 minutes. Dzeko was again presented with a chance on the edge of the Sunderland area following neat build up play from a corner. He once again wasted his chance blazing high into the stands.
Sunderland fans were then incensed as referee Kevin Friend failed to stop play when Sessegnon appeared to be fouled by Aleksander Kolarov. Play was allowed to go on seeing Silva put Aguero through on goal for City’s best chance of the game- Mignolet was again superb using his legs this time to keep the scores level.
Sessegnon produced another top class performance. He came close to putting Sunderland ahead on 65 minutes as Gardner’s throw in was flicked on by Bendtner into the path of the former Paris St Germain danger man. His skilful footwork beat Vincent Kompany but he chose to shoot with the outside of his boot shooting inches wide.
Sebastian Larsson was then booked for a tug on Aguero- he now misses the next game through suspension.
Silva crossed in the resulting free kick, Dzeko rose high but he again sent his effort wide heading several yards past Mignolet’s post.
With just two minutes left on the clock it looked like the fixture was heading towards the first nil-nil between the teams since 1938, but city almost snatched a winner.
Silva fired a thunderbolt of a shot into the palms of Mignolet who parried the ball into the path of Richards, his diving header looped over the Sunderland keeper and onto the crossbar leaving City fans behind the goal with head’s in hands knowing that was their last chance to take three points.
Three minutes of added time had been played when Aguero cut inside shaping to shoot a final effort towards goal. He slammed the ball onto the head of Kilgallon with Larsson picking up the loose ball. The Swede pushed the ball wide to Mclean who passed to late substitute Ji.
With all 40,625 inside the Stadium of Light now on their feet O’Neill and the fans roared for Sunderland to push for one last attack with seconds remaining.
Ji played the ball into the Sessegnon who produced a defence splitting pass back into the feet of Dong-Won with only Hart in goal to beat. Ji proved the calmest man inside the stadium dribbling the ball around Hart before stumbling and poking the ball over the line to claim a sensational last gasp winner.
The Stadium of Light erupted into pandemonium as Ji celebrated at the corner flag mobbed by hundreds of fans- one planting a huge smacker on the cheek of the Korean.
It was a hard earned reward for O’Neill and Sunderland as they battled to the death keeping City at bay throughout.
Mancini was left frustrated having seen his players miss several chances and waste the opportunity to move clear of Man United.
As for Sunderland the stadium was filled with joy as fans celebrated the greatest win on home turf this season climbing to 13th in the table six points clear of the relegation zone.
40,625 (Man City 2,000-2,500)
Keep the faith.