Manchester City manager Roberto Mancini has warned his players they must not allow themselves to be caught by sucker punches if they are to lift the Barclays Premier League trophy.
The leaders showed they were susceptible at the Stadium of Light as Sunderland survived a battering before snatching victory deep into injury time.
Substitute Ji Dong-won made the most of a counter-attack as too many men in blue stood and watched, and the chance to establish a gap over rivals Manchester United evaporated.
Asked if that was good enough, Mancini replied: “No, not for a top team. In that situation, we attacked with eight players and the same players who attack need to come back and run quickly.
“I know football and for that reason in the last 15 minutes, I continued to call [central defenders] Vinny [Vincent Kompany] and [Joleon] Lescott to say, ‘Stay there, stay there, don’t leave the space’, because that was dangerous.
“We continued to attack and sometimes we wanted to attack with 10 players. This is impossible.
“But that’s it, it’s finished. We have a game in 48 hours and we need to recover now.”
Liverpool are next for City tomorrow when Mancini will expect a positive response from his players.
The omens were not promising for Sunderland when boss Martin O’Neill was forced to do without goalkeeper Keiren Westwood, defenders Phil Bardsley and Titus Bramble and midfielder Kieran Richardson.
But O’Neill’s side produced a performance of real grit to give themselves the opportunity to snatch a remarkable victory at the death.
n David Moyes hailed the contribution of Everton match-winner Victor Anichebe, who put a four-month injury nightmare behind him to score the only goal in the win over West Brom at the Hawthorns.
Anichebe suffered a groin injury when on international duty with Nigeria in September and then an ankle setback with the Toffees.
But he marked his return by coming off the substitutes’ bench to net an 87th-minute decider against Roy Hodgson’s side.
Everton manager Moyes said: “It was a serious injury. Victor has had no games. I’ve not even had him playing in reserve games. Then he had an ankle injury when he came back in training.
“He is someone we have missed because we can play him in several roles and he is someone who has got a lot of potential.
“He is a good all-round forward player, he can play wide, through the middle and has a lot of real good attributes which are important in the Premier League.