Manchester City manager Roberto Mancini claimed he might have substituted striker Mario Balotelli after just five minutes of his side’s frustrating draw with Sunderland.
The enigmatic Balotelli may have scored twice but Mancini was frustrated by the Italian’s performance as City surrendered two potentially vital points in the title race.
Champions Manchester United will move five points clear at the top tonight if they beat Blackburn and the situation might have been worse for City had they not hit back from 3-1 down to draw 3-3 with two late goals.
It has been another eventful week for Balotelli, who turned up unannounced at an Inter Milan press conference on Monday and Mancini said on Friday he could not be trusted.
When asked if he thought about taking Balotelli off on Saturday, Mancini said: “I thought this after five minutes but in the end he scored two goals.
“He didn’t play well. In a game like this the strikers should be the difference – but not in the last two minutes, in the minutes before.
“A player like Mario or (Edin) Dzeko should score two or three goals in a game like this.
“In this moment we need Carlos (Tevez), a striker who can do different. I want this.”
Balotelli equalised for City from the penalty spot in the first half but later showed frustration when he argued with Aleksandar Kolarov over who should line up a free-kick.
Tevez is still not fit enough to start and was again on the bench while top scorer Sergio Aguero was missing with an undisclosed foot injury.
City were pushed back throughout by Sunderland, who scored twice through Sebastian Larsson and once through Nicklas Bendtner.
Mancini said: “I think it is the correct result, a draw, but we didn’t do a good performance.
“I am happy only for the last 10 minutes, for the other 80 minutes I am unhappy because we didn’t play very well. I don’t know why.
“In the first half we were flat and in a game like this, that is very important for us, we can’t be flat in the first half.”
Sunderland had already beaten City once this season and manager Martin O’Neill felt they deserved to do so again.
He said: “I thought we played brilliantly and am obviously disappointed to have dropped some points.
“But first of all, they have won 15 consecutive games here – and we are the first team to take some points off them – and they are also second in the league, so they are a very good team.
“They are never out of the match because they have so many match-winners.”