Man City close the gap
Frank Lampard climbed off the bench to ensure City made a winning start to 2015 after Sunderland had come from two goals down to level the scores late on.
After a dour first-half, the match exploded into life after the break with Yaya Toure and Stevan Jovetic appearing to have sealed the points – only for ex-Blues Jack Rodwell and Adam Johnson to score twice in three minutes.
But super sub Lampard had the last laugh with a rare headed goal on 73 minutes to give the hosts a precious 3-2 win and begin the New Year with three points.
The Blues were keen to blow away cobwebs of the disappointing draw with Burnley last Sunday and went into this game knowing a win by three goals or more would displace Chelsea at the top of the Premier League, if only for a few hours.
Manuel Pellegrini made four changes to the starting line-up with Willy Caballero earning a rare outing, while Toure, Jovetic and Gael Clichy were all recalled – Fernando was suspended.
The visitors made their intentions clear from the kick-off, adopting smothering tactics and often putting ten men behind the ball each time the Blues probed forward.
It all became a little predictable as City tried to find a way through the wall of red and white striped shirts blocking their way with only the odd long-range effort from David Silva and Toure warming the gloves of Costel Pantilimon.
An over-fussy referee hardly helped matters as he continually stopped play for seemingly minor looking infringements and all in all, it was a forgettable first 45 minutes of 2015 action.
The Blues needed something special to open the game up and finally, on 56 minutes, it came.
City had remained patient and true to their passing philosophy, believing eventually the Black Cats would crack and after the umpteenth attempt to play their way through, Toure was fed the ball on the edge of the box and, adopting a more direct approach, unleashed a ferocious rising shot that gave Pantilimon no chance.
Defence breached, Sunderland had to turn to Plan B: leave their own half!
Gaps duly opened up and ten minutes later, the Blues doubled their lead with a move started and ended by Jovetic who played the ball wide for Clichy before racing into the six-yard box to cleverly flick the ball home.
Game, set and match surely?
Not quite. City’s two-goal cushion lasted just two minutes as Rodwell nodded home from a corner and incredibly, Sunderland were on level terms just three minutes later as Pablo Zabaleta was judged to have brought down Billy Jones in the box.
Johnson made no mistake from the spot and it seemed as though the Blues were about blow a second successive two-goal lead at home and again drop precious points, but there was still one final twist to come in what was fast becoming an enthralling second period.
With the visiting fans still celebrating their most unlikely comeback, Clichy collected the ball on the left before whipping in a cross that found the head of Lampard and the former England man made no mistake as he planted the ball past Pantilimon.
It was perfect timing by a player who has made a career out of being in the right place at the right time and, in truth, no more than the champions deserved.
Lampard, Jesus Navas, James Milner and Silva went close in the remaining minutes with Pantilimon keeping his team in the hunt with a series of impressive stops, but Super Frank’s goal proved enough to take the spoils as the champions returned to winning ways.