There was always likely to be an extra frisson of rivalry on the KC turf this afternoon. Not being a betting man, I didn’t check the odds on 22 players remaining on the pitch at the game’s end, but they’ll no doubt have been shorter than usual. As we kicked off under the already darkening sky of our first Greenwich Mean Time home game of this winter’s stirring schedule, Listmeister Andy leaned forward and offered me his long-acquired wisdom. A thing to be treasured of course, but when he suggested that Meyler would be heading for the proverbial early bath first, I reminded him that Lee Cattermole was lining up in the oppo’s red and white stripes. Cattermole thinks yellow is for wusses. Bringing City’s game time to over 300 minutes in less than a week were: Harper Rosenior Davies McShane Figueroa Elmohamady Meyler Huddlestone Livermore Boyd Sagbo Sone Aluko’s injury-disrupted Tigers’ career suffered yet another reverse in the warm-up. He was on the teamsheet at 2 p.m. only to be replaced by Meyler by the time the teams came out. Hardly like-for-like. Steve Bruce seems to be a manager who picks the player over the pattern, and Meyler’s inclusion meant that we carded three ex-Black Cats – a fact that was to prove not without significance in the match’s progress. As ever, Sunderland fans packed out the away section in what seemed a near capacity crowd at the KC. It was a raucous but largely formless opening quarter. City looked like a team trying to find its shape. On Meyler watch, I tried to pin down his position, as he spent the first few minutes almost as an inside forward, before going back into midfield, and allowing the excellent Livermore to roam higher up the field. Sunderland looked disorganised. Ex-Tiger Altidore as guileless and lacking in touch as I remember from a few seasons back, but lacking the naïve enthusiasm of his spell in Hull. Altidore scored goals for fun in the Dutch league last season, and spent the summer smashing various US national team records – scoring 7 goals in all over 5 consecutive games including one against Germany. May be the Premier League just doesn’t suit. Or may be the chaos that has been Sunderland AFC of late has robbed him and his teammates of the necessary ease and endeavour. As the game moved through its first half hour, City – attacking the north stand end – were getting the better of the exchanges and half-chances. Tom Huddlestone whipped in a dangerous free kick from our left which almost found McShane towards the far post, but the lunging Irishman couldn’t quite connect. Shortly afterwards, Jake Livermore dispossed the unwary Altidore with apparent ease. We’re just about on top, but lacking in bite. Sagbo is a presence, as ever, but the supply line hasn’t been established. For Sunderland, Cattermole is getting tetchy. Though perhaps ‘getting’ is superfluous. Then we score. A Huddlestone freekick from the half-way line, just in front of the benches, finds its way to the edge of the penalty area on our right, and eventually to Rosenior who dinks a dangerous ball towards the near post. Sagbo and a defender go for it together, and Sagbo appears to flick it across the goal and inside the far post, past the flailing Westwood. 1-0 The scoreboard later records it as a Cuellar own goal, so presumably someone saw a replay and deemed that it came off the Sunderland man last. Who cares. Well, may be Yannick Sagbo does, as it was his presence and attempt on goal that did the damage. It’s the sort of forward play that Sunderland loanee Danny Graham has been unable to provide so far this season. After we take the lead, the rest of this half is all City. Rosenior and Elmohamady work well as a combination down our right. Our five man midfield begins to large it with pass after pass after pass, each greeted with cheers from the home crowd. Meyler, to Livermore, to Huddlestone, back to Livermore, to Boyd, to Figueroa, neat triangles leave an increasingly frustrated Sunderland flailing and chasing. 104 passes in total before finally the ball is given to Harper who clears it up to Huddlestone. Obviously it might not have been 104. Just let that number stand for ‘a lot’. It was great to watch a City team playing this way. Sunderland’s frustration became more evident. Just before half-time that frustration increased still further, when keeper Westwood and ex-Black Cat McShane collided going for a ball whipped in by Boyd. Westwood lies prone for a good few minutes, carries on playing for a couple more, but is then replaced by ex-Tiger Vito Mannone, who gets warm applause from the City fans as he joins the fray. It’s not all warmth and bonhomie on the pitch though. As the first half ticks over into 5 minutes added time, Lee Cattermole, in the middle of the pitch, right in front of the referee, launches himself into a two-footed tackle on his former teammate, Ahmed Elmohamady. With scarcely a pause to check the red of referee Marriner’s card, Cattermole walks off the pitch and down the tunnel. Whether he took a bath or not, I can’t tell you. It’s all done with the insouciance of a professional mafia hitman, and immediately makes me wonder whether there’s some grudge held over from the days – only last season – when Elmohamady and Cattermole were playing and training colleagues. That would be some end to the half in itself, but we’re not even half done with added time. Play briefly resumes before the fourth official alerts Marriner to something that Sunderland’s new don – sorry, manager – Poyet has said or done. Marriner ticks off Poyet, who stares down at the official silently. He doesn’t look happy. Let’s try again, there’s still time on the clock. No sooner does play restart than Sunderland are down to 9 men. This time it’s one of Paulo Di Canio’s signings, Italian internationalist Dossena, who takes the two footed approach, scything down Meyler with a vicious challenge in front of the East Stand. Once more it’s a recent Sunderland player who is the victim. But Meyler never played alongside Dossena so it’s less likely to be personal. Still, if I was McShane at this point, I might be watching my back in case the capo and his crew are out to whack me too. So at half-time it’s all looking rosy for City. One goal up, Sunderland down to 9 men, Meyler and Elmohamady emerged amazingly unscathed from two dangerous tackles, and the only player forced off by injury being the opposition keeper. If there were any vendettas being played out, our mob has got the upper hand. John Hawley – one of many players to have turned out for both clubs in recent decades – makes the half-time draw. Micky Horswill, Roy Greenwood, Tony Norman, Billy Whitehurst, Steve Doyle, Kevin Kilbane, Michael Turner. They all would have done a decent job of pulling out the numbered ticket. Chris Brown wouldn’t. Iain Hesford would have got his hand stuck. John Moore would have made a late lunge and missed. As the teams came out for the second half, there was a feeling that the match was won and now we would put Sunderland to the sword. After all – it’s 11 versus 9. Poyet takes off Altidore and Borini and replaces them with Adam Johnson and Wes Brown, two players with plenty of England caps between them. I’ve long admired Johnson. He’s a fine player and would seem to be well suited to playing on the break, which is Sunderland’s only hope now. The more the second half goes on though, the more the problems of playing against 9 men become apparent. Sunderland really have no other option but to defend en masse and – very occasionally – to try and nick an equaliser on the break. It reminds me of those internationals where a decent team comes up against San Marino, and San Marino just pack the defence and concede possession. There’s so many players in the final third that it’s really hard to break through. There’s so much time on the ball for the attacking team in midfield that their normal pattern of play breaks down. The crowd gets frustrated because they see their team with all the possession but unable to do much with it. That’s basically how the half shakes down. George Boyd in particular sees more of the ball and has more time than he’s ever likely to again at this level. Repeatedly he passes back and forth with Figueroa down the left, getting into the Sunderland box and then either shooting or crossing to no one in particular. Likewise Elmohamady down the right crosses several times, but with no real effect. No one seems very sure what to do. A little experience and guile is needed. Perhaps this is Bruce’s thinking when he brings on Robert Koren for Meyler after 10 minutes of the second half. Koren does nothing wrong, but not much changes. The real guile and skill comes from our Tottenham loanee, the excellent Jake Livermore, who comes nearest to extending our lead with a couple of long-range shots. One forces a fine save from Mannone, another – towards the end of the match – smashes against the post and rebounds to Proschwitz, on for Rosenior, who can’t control it in front of the open goal. Of course, just packing the defence and keeping us out won’t get the Mackems any points, and so as the half progresses they increasingly try to hit us on the break. With quarter an hour to go one such break leads to Boyd fouling Bardsley about 25 yards out, just to our left. A perfect position for Johnson to hit one. Happily Larson takes it. Badly. The ball trickles wide of Harper’s left hand post. Boyd may have played well in recent games, but he’s no left winger and he’s not having much impact today. With 15 minutes to go he’s replaced by Robbie Brady – in theory a far more natural winger, but in practice today he doesn’t play down the left much at all and looks as bemused as his teammates when it comes to finding a way through the Black Cats’ rearguard. The nearer we get to the end of the match, the more likely it seems that Sunderland will snatch a goal. Never more likely than when a clearance upfield beats McShane, bounces over the impeccable Davies, and puts Adam Johnson one-on-one with Steve Harper. Johnson’s a fine player and well suited to playing on the break. Hah! Harper rushes out to meet him, denying the forward both time and a space to shoot into. Johnson’s shot sees the ball hit Harper and rebound to safety. Not that spectacular, but a fantastic points-clinching save all the same. City’s worries aren’t completely over as Sunderland have two more freekicks from around the halfway line either side of the 90 minute mark. Mannone takes the first and every other player on the pitch is in our penalty area. It’s cleared to Bardsley who shoots poorly wide. Then in added time Larsen takes a similar kick, with Mannone going up for it to no great effect. And that’s it. The ref blows for full-time and we’ve got another 3 Premier League points and remain unbeaten at home. We’re a quarter of the way through the season now – 10 games gone, 10thplace in the Premier League. May be it’s because we’ve been in the top division before. May be it’s because we’ve got a manager of immense top flight experience. May be it’s because of the way the team’s playing. Whatever combination of these it is, there’s no doubt that we’re being patronised a little less than last time round. That all makes me happy. Most of all though, it’s the 3 points that makes me happy tonight. For all the plaudits, we had just lost 3 in a row before today’s game. We needed to win, and we did so. And given that 3 of our next 4 games are against clubs in the top 5, wins like this are likely to seem all the more important as we head into the winter months.