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Man City must avoid falling foul of bogey team Sunderland in title tilt

Do not let the second half rally in the Capital One Cup fool you punters. Sunderland, however dire their straits may seem, have a habit of taking Premier League points off Manchester City.

Manuel Pellegrini’s men (5/2) may well be reeling from defeat to title rivals Liverpool (odds-on favourites at 8/11) last time out, but the Black Cats somehow manage to raise their game in encounters against them.

It will come as no surprise to learn that City are heavily odds-on, at 1/6, for a home win over a side that props up the Premier League table some seven points from safety and all set for the drop (1/10).

Gus Poyet’s task has been made all the more difficult by rumours that he will quit Sunderland – a mere six months after succeeding Paolo Di Canio. He has denied such claims.

Former Brighton boss Poyet is 11/4 to leave Wearside before the end of the season, but odds-on at 5/6 to be in charge at the Stadium of Light for the first game of next term.

The Black Cats start as massive 16/1 outsiders to pull off a shock at the Etihad and, perverse as it sounds, those odds are worth considering. From the last 15 Premier League points available in meetings between the two sides, City have picked up just four.

Most of Sunderland’s shocks have admittedly occurred at the Stadium of Light, but they got a credible 3-3 draw away in this fixture as recently as two years ago. Odds on the spoils being shared are a more realistic 13/2, while a repeat scoreline from March 2012 is 90/1.

Here we have a fixture that pits a Black Cats team that has conceded twice as many times on the road as they’ve managed to hit the net, against Pellegrini’s free-scoring side. Only Liverpool have got more home goals, and drawn a blank less often, than City.

On each of the last four occasions this fixture has been played at the Etihad, the home team has scored at least three times. City’s total goals exceeding 3.5 here is a 13/8 shot.

Yaya Toure is a big miss for the hosts, but the original prognosis from Pellegrini that he might miss the whole of their run-in was pessimistic. The Ivorian midfield powerhouse is set to be out for up to two weeks with a groin problem, and City’s games in that timeframe are winnable with or without him.

In the absence of Toure, punters may wish to look at Serbia wing back Aleksandar Kolarov as a surprise source of goals. He has netted on both of Sunderland’s last two visits, so odds of 10/3 are tempting when you consider the City strikers are all odds-on in the anytime market.

Poyet, who last won a league game on February 1st, must do without the experience of Phil Bardsley in defence here, because of suspension for picking up 10 bookings. Liam Bridcutt will be missing from the midfield anchor role too for personal reasons.

It is very tough to make a case for the Black Cats based on anything other than history, but, if any player is to score for them at all, then look to Adam Johnson and Fabio Borini. The former can hurt his old team here, and is 7/1 to be on target anytime.

Borini, meanwhile, can do parent club Liverpool a favour by helping Sunderland to snatch something from title rivals City. The Italian forward scored a stunning shock opener in the Capital One Cup final, and is 18/1 to repeat that feat. He is a safer 13/2 in the anytime market.

A handsome City win looks the most likely outcome here, though. Pellegrini is a 6/1 shot to record a 3-0 victory, which would replicate the result Roberto Mancini got in the home fixture last season.