Johnson opened the scoring for City on only his ninth league start this season
By Alistair Magowan
Manchester City moved above Chelsea into third spot in the Premier League after an impressive attacking display against Sunderland.
Throwing away the conservatism that has blanketed recent displays, City opened the scoring when Adam Johnson exchanged passes with Yaya Toure to fire in.
Carlos Tevez then doubled the lead from the penalty spot on 15 minutes.
David Silva made it three before substitute Patrick Vieira slid in and Toure added a fifth on 73 minutes.
City could have easily made it more convincing but in contrast to recent performances, it was a showing full of purpose and promise marked by a change in the line-up and formation.
Mancini celebrates 'very important' win
Johnson, Tevez, Silva and Toure all showed what they can do when they have more licence to burst forward but they were given lots of room to create openings thanks to a poor defensive offering from Sunderland.
Even though they are a point above Chelsea, having played one game more, the manner of the victory will also give City boss Roberto Mancini food for thought ahead of crucial games against Liverpool in the league a week on Monday and against Manchester United in the FA Cup final on 16 April.
Perhaps the Italian manager was influenced by the defeat by Chelsea a fortnight ago, where they struggled to create any meaningful chances.
He opted for a more adventurous formation with Mario Balotelli and Tevez up front, while midfielder Gareth Barry was dropped to the bench, just five days after captaining England against Ghana.
More importantly, Johnson received only his ninth start of the season to give City added thrust on the right and it was not long before the winger was involved, setting up Balotelli for one of many shots that were blocked.
As early as the ninth minute, Sunderland were wary of the English 23-year-old and it was this space that helped create the well-taken opener.
The Black Cats stood off Johnson as he received a pass from Toure on the right and as the Ivorian took the return pass and set off down the wing, Johnson was on hand to receive his cutback, burying his shot into the net for his seventh goal of the season.
That fine goal seemed to knock the visitors sideways and just as they were trying to recover, Silva found Tevez with a diagonal ball to create a second.
Following the lofted pass, the Argentine tried to lift the ball over Sunderland defender Michael Turner, but he was caught in the box leaving referee Howard Webb no option but to point to the spot.
Making his first start since November, Turner had no complaints about the penalty and Tevez duly tucked the ball into the corner for his 22nd goal of the season, although keeper Simon Mignolet got a hand to it.
City had chances to put the game out of sight before half-time with Tevez and Balotelli having further shots closed down, and at that stage the City fans watching must have wondered why Mancini had not opted for a similar line-up when the Premier League title was still within their grasp.
Sensing their standing in their game, City eased down a gear, allowing Sunderland to grasp more of the ball in midfield before half time.
In fact, the visitors finished the period the stronger team with Stephane Sessegnon setting up Danny Welbeck, who missed his kick, while Asamoah Gyan had Joe Hart scrabbling with a looping effort.
Bruce urges Sunderland to bounce back
But the pressure was short-lived as Johnson impressed early in the second half to combine with Silva.
His energy was in contrast to the frustrating Balotelli, who had another shot blocked soon after, but the Italian did have a hand in the goal which ended the game as a contest just after the hour.
Tevez made a superb run across the back of the Sunderland defence and was found expertly by Nigel de Jong. And although his cross led to a Balotelli shot which was charged down, Silva was on hand to pick up the rebound to make the game safe.
City were out of sight soon after when Vieira came onto replace Johnson on 65 minutes and scored with his first touch.
Aleksandar Kolarov fired across goal following a cleared corner and Vieira slid in at the back post to steer the ball across the line.
A bad day got even worse for Sunderland when captain Lee Cattermole tried to square the ball to his defence from the left flank but his lobbed pass was a disaster waiting to happen and Toure nipped in to slot in City's fifth.
It finished off a miserable day for Sunderland boss Steve Bruce, whose side have not won a game for seven games now.
Where they once had European aspirations, they will now be looking down towards the bottom of the table, just six points above the relegation zone.
For City, an almost perfect day was denied towards the end when Balotelli's free-kick was well saved by Mignolet, but this win will give them a momentum that might be hard to break as the season comes to a conclusion.
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