It was the tale of two cities this past Boxing day. In Manchester, United entertained a Newcastle side short on form and well out of luck. Having dropped points against Swansea at the weekend, Alex Ferguson’s men were keen to get back to winning ways against Pardew’s team who had lost 3 of their last 4 games coming into the match. But Newcastle showed spirit from the off and were ahead after only 4 minutes thanks to James Perch. And so began a thrilling match that would see Newcastle lead three times only to be pegged back three times and eventually dealt a sucker blow with Hernandez’s 90th minutes strike. It was a hard pill for Pardew to swallow as for so much of the game, Newcastle looked worthy of a point, if not 3. For the first time in more than a month, the Toon Army were given a glimpse of last season’s form that has so far deluded the team this year.
Up in Sunderland, Manchester City were looking to put a poor performance against Reading behind them, where they snatched the three points thanks only to a later Gareth Barry goal. They faced Martin O’Neill’s Sunderland who lie mid table but have hardly shown the form that they are capable of. Indeed Steven Fletcher’s influence and goals looks like one of the few reasons why Sunderland aren’t involved in this years relegation battle. City struggled early on in the match to find their gear and fell behind in the early part of the second half to a goal scored by former City player Adam Johnson. Johnson, who joined City from Middlesbourgh in the January 2010 window for a reported £7m, failed to hold down a first team place under Mancini and was sold this summer to Sunderland for a reduced fee. A pacey winger, Johnson has flourished at Sunderland with some fine performances, including yesterday’s one against his old club. Mancini’s team were unable to get the equalizer they needed and left the Stadium of Light without any points and now sit 7 points behind rivals United.
With Chelsea picking up three points with a 1-0 victory over Norwich and Tottenham and Everton continuing their form with victories, the pressure must surely be on Mancini. Out of the Champions League and desperate to retain the league title again, Mancini knows that City’s wealthy owners are running out of patience and quickly. With the January transfer window approaching, Mancini will look to strengthen his squad but may not be given the chance if the owners feel that now is the perfect time to change leaders. Guardiola is rumoured to be open to discussing new opportunities and the potential for him to succeed Mancini may be too much to look past. Across the city, Ferguson will know the importance of Hernandez’s 90th minute goal and the psychological effect it will have on the title race. United will know that if they can maintain good form in the last half of the season and hold off the chasing pack, they could see themselves lifting a record 13th Premiership title in May.