On a Premier League weekend when Arsenal’s lead at the head of the table was reduced to two points and Manchester United proved that they will not easily yield the title, it was lowly Sunderland who produced the shock result by defeating title contenders Manchester City. The match had virtually been described as a formality for City, but the result provided evidence that there are no forgone conclusions in such a competitive league.
City arrived on Wearside having recorded 7-0 and 5-2 victories in their previous two matches with twin strikers Sergio Aguero and Alvaro Negredo in particularly inspired form. Their only seeds of doubt were the absence of the inspirational David Silva due to injury and only one away league victory this season.
There was yet another problem awaiting City, namely the recent curse of the Stadium of Light. In the past three seasons, Sunderland had won the corresponding fixture by a 1-0 scoreline but were being quoted at 25/1 by some bookmakers for a repeat performance.
Before the match, Sunderland had only accumulated 4 points from a possible 10 with their only win arriving via a late winner in the home derby match with neighbours Newcastle. A significant summer turnaround in players followed soon afterwards by the much-publicised dismissal of manager Paulo di Canio was a difficult burden to bear for a club suddenly embroiled in a bid for Premier League survival at such an early stage of the campaign.
A 4-0 defeat in his inaugural match at Swansea was proof that new head coach Gus Poyet would need to instil a winning mentality and confidence as a matter of urgency. Since that day in Wales, Sunderland have lost only game when reduced to nine players in a 1-0 defeat at Hull.
After becoming an outcast under the previous regime, Phil Bardsley was restored to the starting eleven alongside the injury prone Wes Brown and suddenly the Black Cats are becoming a difficult team to beat as Manchester City found to their cost at the weekend.
Gus Poyet is under no illusions as to the task ahead with many more points at stake in the months ahead, but yet another 1-0 win against Manchester City courtesy of a Bardsley goal is evidence that the league table can hide some impressive turnaround in fortunes.
No doubt Tottenham would have expected to claim three points against Newcastle on the same day, but the Magpies mid-table position belies some impressive recent performances especially when beating Chelsea 2-0 and earning a 2-2 draw with Liverpool when reduced to 10 men for an entire half. Tottenham had also lost 3-0 in their previous league home match.
Sometimes, it is may be worth consulting the current form book and ignoring league tables when trying to predict Premier League matches.