NEXT week there will be a ceremony at the Stadium of Light in which Sunderland’s Player of the Season will be named and the hot betting is on a certain Italian goalkeeper getting the top award.
But, oh, Vito Mannone...
The accolade is likely to feel like the jinxed manager of the month award to the ex-Arsenal keeper who suffered so badly at the Etihad last night.
Although he might have done better for City’s first goal, he should certainly have stopped their second.
And as the ball trickled over the line from his fumble in the 88th minute, the agony etched on his face said everything about what the two lost points meant to Sunderland’s season.
Mannone’s excellence was, of course, a contributory factor to Sunderland having any hope at all of surviving the drop this season – he didn’t feature at all in ex-boss Paolo Di Canio’s disastrous opening couple of months in the Premier League this season.
And since breaking into the team, almost by accident in November, he has fully earned any recognition which might come his way when the honours are handed out.
But it was a typically cruel twist of fate for Sunderland this season that one of the players who has done so well for them should let them down at such a critical time.
Sunderland were within minutes of a famous win which would have breathed fresh life into evaporating hopes of them surviving this season, when Samir Nasri’s shots squirmed out of Mannone’s gloves and bobbled agonisingly over the line as the Italian clawed desperately after it.
And the truly agonising element to the futile chase, was that not only were Sunderland within sight of all three points at the Etihad, but that they fully deserved them.
It had looked a different story when City went ahead after just two minutes. Alvaro Negredo robbed Lee Cattermole of possession, fed Sergio Aguero and then dummied the cross in from the left to let the ball reach Fernandinho and he made no mistake with a smart finish which beat Mannone at his near post.
It wasn’t a signal for the floodgates to open on Sunderland though as City struggled for any further fluency.
Sunderland should have equalised in the seventh minute but John O’Shea – just outside the six-yard box – somehow nodded wide of Joe Hart’s left-hand post, and then the same player headed another gilt-edged opportunity inches over.
Fabio Borini dragged a shot across goal while Adam Johnson, against his former club, fired a couple of yards wide of the target after an exciting run.
It was a first half Sunderland could be proud of even though City had late appeals for a penalty turned down when O’Shea caught Aguero surging into the area.
The second half started sluggishly, with very little in the way of goalscoring chances for either side until Hart blocked from Joe Colback on 72 minutes.
It was a sign though of how vulnerable City were looking on the occasions Sunderland showed ambition.
A minute later and Sunderland were ahead as their two substitutes combined, Ignacio Scocco feeding the ball down the left-hand channel to Emanuele Giaccherini and the Italian finding space to loft over a deep cross which the sprinting Connor Wickham side-footed past Hart at the far post from close range.
The goal had been coming and both Sunderland and Wickham deserved it – Sunderland for their all-round attitude in the face of daunting odds, Wickham for his endeavour and desire not to be bossed about.
City looked stung and it got worse for the home side when Wickham got his second on the counter-attack from a Man City corner, crashing an unstoppable shot just inside Hart’s left-hand post.
With only seven minutes remaining of the 90, Sunderland were within touching distance of doing the double over City.
But this is a City side used to snatching something from the jaws of defeat and they served up a grandstand finale in the dying minutes as Sunderland strove to hold on.
The equaliser came in the 88th minute and it was cruelty personified as Nasri hit a first-time volley from 12 yards out – Mannone blocked it on the line but it squirmed out of his hands and all he could do was chase it desperately to his right as it snail-paced over the line.
In the minutes that remained, the game could have been even crueller to Sunderland but mercifully Nasri skied a sitter on the stroke of full time and the visitors escaped a 3-2 defeat.
Sunderland still look to be going down – but they are certainly going down fighting.
Poyet said: We played a great game and took something from it.
“I thought for a few minutes we were going to get all three points, but we didn’t because of an incredible moment again.
“I think everyone was expecting us to collapse and concede five or six, but we didn’t.”