City's Richards finds form
Manchester City's Micah Richards finally recaptured the form that made him England's youngest ever defender, as his goal clinched a 1-0 win over ten-man Sunderland. Richards has endured a slump in form since making his international debut as a 17-year-old against Holland in November 2006. He has been dropped at times by City boss Mark Hughes this season, but produced a dominant display in defence and attack at Eastlands.
After Sunderland had George McCartney sent off for a professional foul early in the first half, City should have cruised to victory. But Brazil forward Robinho missed a first half penalty, which had been won by Richards, and it took Richards to seal the points himself just before the hour.
Valeri Bojinov was handed his first Manchester City start since August 2007, while Elano and Nigel de Jong replaced injured duo Stephen Ireland and Wayne Bridge. City were quickly into their stride and Nedum Onuoha went close with a header from Elano's corner.
The hosts opened up the visitors' defence in superb fashion when Bojinov chested a long kick downfield from Shay Given into Elano's path. The Brazilian provided a neat return pass, allowing Bojinov to send Shaun Wright-Phillips racing clear. Marton Fulop tried to make himself big, but Wright-Phillips' lob beat him with ease, only for it to bounce just wide.
Sunderland were dealt a hammer blow not long afterwards, when Wright-Phillips just got in front of McCartney as the pair chased a ball heading for the visitors' box. Wright-Phillips stopped as though he had been tugged back. Referee Steve Tanner did not see it, but, having consulted an assistant, he promptly sent McCartney off.
If that was not enough, after Bojinov had curled the free-kick over, City were promptly awarded a penalty when Steed Malbranque sent Richards flying. Bojinov and Phil Bardsley were booked amid the rancour that followed, before Robinho stepped up and delivered an awful penalty that was saved to his left by Fulop.
City kept up the pressure and a Richards shot spun wide off Danny Collins, while Bojinov headed Elano's corner over at the near post. Richards was getting forward at every opportunity and it took a fine sliding tackle from Collins to deny him a sight of the Sunderland goal. Then Richards presented Wright-Phillips with a perfect cut-back, only for the winger to rush his shot, which went sailing over.
Sunderland had no answer to the pace and power of Richards and when Elano floated over a free-kick in the 56th minute, Richards rose highest to head home. Sunderland striker Djibril Cisse thought he should have had a penalty for handball when he tangled with Pablo Zabaleta. Richards limped off with what appeared to be a hamstring injury before Elano brought a fine save out of Fulop, who also brilliantly denied Robinho in the final moments.