Santa Cruz converts Barry's cross to score his second goal
By Phil Dawkes
Two goals from Roque Santa Cruz helped Manchester City to a narrow victory over resilient 10-man Sunderland in a seven-goal thriller at Eastlands.
Santa Cruz side-footed City into the lead before Carlos Tevez's 12th-minute penalty doubled their advantage.
Goals from John Mensah and Jordan Henderson pulled Sunderland level but Craig Bellamy put City ahead again.
Substitute Kenwyne Jones made it 3-3 but Santa Cruz's second won it for City before Michael Turner was sent off.
The win was vital for City in their quest for a top-four finish after the damaging 3-0 defeat to fellow Champions League aspirants Tottenham on Wednesday, but it still may not be enough to save manager Mark Hughes his job.
Morning reports suggested that the Welshman may be relieved of his duties regardless of the result, with the Eastlands money men apparently bereft of patience and keen to employ someone they believe can give them a greater return on their vast outlay.
Hughes needed a convincing performance from his team in his bid to push his case for continued employment.
However, despite claiming the points, this was the same fallible City that have proven to be less than the sum of their expensive parts throughout the season.
In response to their failure at White Hart Lane, Hughes dropped two of his most valuable assets, Emmanuel Adebayor and Robinho and brought in Santa Cruz and Bellamy.
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It is a testimony to Hughes that the replacements were at the forefront of all that was good about City's performance.
After just four minutes, Tevez carried the ball into the Sunderland half before freeing Bellamy down the left with a superbly weighted pass.
The Welsh striker opted for a first-time cross, which was easily dispatched into the net by Santa Cruz for his first league goal in City colours.
The attacking trio combined again in the 12th minute to double the home side's lead.
Santa Cruz played a neat one-two with Bellamy, who was then felled by Sunderland defender Nyron Nosworthy for a penalty.
Tevez was made to wait by some unnecessary jostling on the edge of the box, but he his nerve held to dispatch the spot-kick down the middle of the goal.
Unfortunately for City, and their manager, their potency at one end was matched by ineptitude at the other.
Just four minutes after seemingly taking firm control of the match, they gifted the visitors a route back in.
Sunderland have suffered an inconsistent run similar to their hosts of late, having claimed only five of the last 24 points available to them.
However, theirs is also an expensively assembled squad with enough talent to hurt the best of sides - and in an eight-minute spell they ruthlessly exposed City's fallibility.
Andy Reid was afforded space on the left, and his superb inswinging cross found Mensah, completely unmarked eight yards out, to head home.
Minutes later, the visitors were level when City centre-back Kolo Toure made a hash of clearing a corner, allowing Henderson to smash the ball past Shay Given from 14 yards.
City's defence was already weakened by the absence of Joleon Lescott and Wayne Bridge, and it was further diminished by the loss of Micah Richards, due to an ankle injury sustained in the build-up to Mensah's goal.
That City ended the half ahead is thanks to the ability of their forwards and Bellamy in particular.
Pablo Zabaleta, who replaced Richards, chipped forward for Shaun Wright-Phiilips, whose cross was allowed to run along the edge of the area before Bellamy collected and then curled into the far corner of the net.
However, Sunderland were dogged in their determination to get something from the game, and on the hour they superbly fashioned another equaliser.
Nosworthy neatly fed Henderson in space on the right, and from his cross substitute Jones got ahead of Vincent Kompany to head in from six yards.
City, though, have paid a premium to amass the attacking talent with which to win tight matches, and with 20 minutes to go they struck the telling blow.
From inside the Sunderland half, Zabaleta swept a pass forward that found Barry unmarked, and his short toe-poked cross was converted by Santa Cruz from close range.
And Sunderland's hopes of launching a sustained final push were thwarted when Turner was shown a straight red card by referee Andre Mariner for an elbow on Barry.
Sunderland manager Steve Bruce:
"The red card was obscene. It was two players competing for the ball. A centre-half going up to win it and I'd expect him to go up and win it.
"He's going to miss three games unless the referee has got the guts to rescind it.
"For the spirit and commitment of the players we deserved something but unfortunately we didn't get it."
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