A 1-0 loss to Sunderland. Sounds familiar, doesn't it? Much like many recent first team efforts against the North-East team, this was a game where City dominated possession, but struggled in vain to break down a stoic, stubborn defence. Typically, we were then hit by a late sucker punch and lost by a solitary goal after some poor defending. It was a frustrating night, and a little harsh on City, truth be told. We huffed and puffed, and we did create a few decent chances, but the players were let down by a lack of any real conviction and some naive decision making when it really mattered. The first half was unequivocally City's. We pressed and could have scored a few times, Celina going close from a free kick and Ambrose nearly doing a Rivaldo - chesting a corner upwards before nearly finding the net with a spectacular bicylce kick. It would have been sublime, and it was yet another strong performance overall from the consistent young French forward. He ran himself into the ground, winning header after header too - if his radar had been a little more tuned he could have won it for us. Garcia could have scored too - a drilled half-volley just beating the cross bar and Barker could have perhaps had a penalty after he was brought down as he burst into the area.
It became a little scrappier in the second 45 minutes. We continued to control the tempo of the game, but there was no real incisiveness as players ran down blind alleys, misplaced passes and mis-controlled the ball far too often. It just didn't happen at all and their goal felt inevitable as frustration crept into City's game. They scored with twenty minutes left with their first shot on target - it came from a Kean Bryan mistake as the ball rolled under his foot, they broke and further poor defending lead to their centre-forward drilling the ball past Gunn. It felt predictable, and though there was a valiant attempt at getting back into it as Vieira shifted to a 3-5-2 and pushed forward, we didn't really work their keeper a great deal. Nemane had our best chance to level. Free at the back post after a great cross from Celina, his control let him down and he dallied far too long in possession and the keeper saved at his feet. All too typical of the performance. It wasn't a particularly balanced line up, and we lacked any real creativity centrally towards the end as substitute appearances left us with a rather functional midfield three of Horsfield, Evans and Glendon that lacked that necessary nuance. We started initially with Gunn in goal and the back four consisted of Maffeo, Evans, Plummer and Ash-Smith Brown. Evans held the midfield and Glendon and Garcia were given license to push forward behind the front free. Barker took up his usual left slot, Ambrose started as the number nine and Celina found himself in the unfamiliar role of right wing.
Ambrose was the pick of the bunch, impressing with his effervescent style, chasing lost causes, winning challenges and, in general, being a real handful. Celina looked a little lost out on the right, and later too while he was pushed out to the left, but when he did get the chance to drift inside to his usual central position he was good - as he has been consistently so far this season. The game was crying out for his influence centrally. It didn't quite happen for Barker before he was replaced towads the end. There was effort, and he was persistent, but he was often double, or even triple, marked. Sunderland had clearly earmarked him as a threat and their pressure worked. He often ran in trouble or took the wrong option. He still had one or two exciting moments, as he always does, but it wasn't quite his night. Garcia lasted an hour before being replaced. It was a mixed performance - he got into the area well, twice finding himself in goal-scoring positions but he was too eager in possession as he tried to find the killer ball. There's still settling in to do at this level for him. Glendon struggled to assert himself in a more advanced position than usual, despite his willing running, and Evans, restored to his more usual central midfield position, kept things ticking over nicely. He's clearly much more comfortable there than he is at the heart of defence.
Defensively we didn't have too much to do so it was disappointing that there was still a few heart in mouth moments, often brought on by problems of our own making. Maffeo and Smith-Brown both put in good shifts on either side of defence, and Plummer and Bryan mopped up what little they had to do quite well, but their competent moments were punctuated by some hesitant play that put us under unnecessary pressure, and eventually lost us the game. Bryan started on the right hand side of defence - he's left-footed, and it showed on occasion. He's a holding midfielder, and a very powerful one too, and that's where his future will surely lie and there will be the odd moments of insecurity while he's situated at the back. Gunn had little to do - their goal, and their first shot on target, came in the 72nd minute in what was a quiet night for him. He distributed well as ever, but it was essentially a stroll in the park for the youngster who celebrated being the first City player to be named in the England u21 squad for years earlier this week. Faupala had little impact as a late sub, likewise Horsfield who kept it simple as City pressed for an equaliser. Nemane could have levelled had his composure not let him down, but all in all it wasn't a great night for anyone really and it was a game City will look to quickly move on from. That's one draw and a loss from the two opening games of the Premier League International Cup so far - not a good start, but this Sunday's Manchester Senior Cup final against Bolton should offer a quick and welcome chance at redemption.