City suffer title blow
Manchester - Manchester City staged a dramatic revival to draw 3-3 with Sunderland, but the late show couldn't hide a clear case of title nerves at Eastlands on Saturday.
Roberto Mancini's side are now two points behind leaders Manchester United after just one win from their last four league matches and the champions can increase their advantage to five points with a victory at Blackburn on Monday.
After playing some superb football in the first half of the season, City have been hamstrung by some sloppy away displays of late, so they could ill-afford to drop points at home for the first time this season.
It could have been even worse as Sunderland led 3-1, thanks to two goals from Sebastian Larsson and a Nicklas Bendtner header, with only five minutes left.
But Mario Balotelli, who had scored a first half penalty equaliser, started the fightback in the 85th minute and moments later Aleksandar Kolarov lashed in the equaliser.
The equaliser temporarily eased some of the tension around Eastlands but, as the rivalry with United at the top of the league intensifies, this was a desperately nervy performance from Mancini's team.
The warning signs had been evident for City from early in the game, James McClean's early volley being charged down by Micah Richards and Craig Gardner shooting into the side-netting from barely six yards.
Sunderland stunned City on the half-hour when they became the first team since December to score against them in the first half of a game.
Larsson got it, converting an expert right-foot finish as Vincent Kompany backed off and allowed the winger to choose his spot with a deadly right-footed shot
That lead lasted just 12 minutes before referee Phil Dowd handed City a disputed penalty kick after Edin Dzeko was tripped in the box by Gardner.
Balotelli calmly equalised from the penalty spot with a typically cool finish into the bottom right-hand corner.
Yet Mancini was furious on the touchline when City were caught unprepared by a quickly-taken Larsson free-kick which sent Stephane Sessegnon away down the right in first half stoppage-time.
Sessegnon's perfectly-weighted cross to the far post was met by Bendtner, outjumping Micah Richards, to head home emphatically.
It got worse for City after 54 minutes. Sessegnon played a superb pass which split City's badly-organised defence and sent Bendtner racing clear.
The on-loan Arsenal forward waited long enough to draw in the remaining defenders before placing a pass to the far post where Larsson converted his second goal of the afternoon.
Mancini's response was to bring on Carlos Tevez, in place of the increasingly ineffective David Silva, as City could sense their title aspirations disappearing.
Kolo Toure attempted, in vain, to start a recovery but headed well over from a James Milner corner.
Things were becoming desperate for City, their malaise illustrated when Balotelli and Kolarov openly argued with each other over who should take a free-kick.
Yaya Toure marched Balotelli away, leaving Kolarov to place his shot just wide of the mark.
Increasingly, City's best hope appeared Tevez whose run and shot into the side-netting handed supporters a glimmer of hope after 68 minutes before he again forced Sunderland goalkeeper Simon Mignolet into action from 20 yards 10 minutes later.
Instead, after Bendtner missed a promising opening, it was Balotelli who sparked the comeback by firing home through a crowd of players with five minutes left.
City had some momentum at last and Kolarov bagged the equaliser one minute later with a tremendous finishing after chesting the ball down in the penalty area.