Joe Hart made it clear that no amount of hoopla over the appointment of Pep Guardiola was going to sidetrack Manchester City’s title bid after they ground out a resilient victory to mark Manuel Pellegrini’s 100th Premier League match on Tuesday night.
The 1-0 win at Sunderland came just a day after the announcement that Guardiola would replace Pellegrini at the end of the season and after all the dreamy talk on Monday of the beautiful brave new world under Pep, City knuckled down to getting their hands dirty.
“We’re here to win titles,” City keeper Hart told the BBC after his side had looked second best for much of the second half against Sunderland but managed to prevail thanks to a first half goal from the masterly Sergio Aguero.
“Yesterday’s news was never going to be a distraction.”
Indeed, it was the sort of win that identifies champions as Pellegrini, still seeking to bow out fancifully with triumphs in four separate competitions, could reflect on a 65th victory in his 100th league match.
Only Jose Mourinho with 73 wins has a better Premier League record in his first 100 than that, which gives another indication of how unlucky the Chilean manager can consider himself as he has to step aside for football’s man of the hour.
Of those 100 games, there have been few which have demonstrated the flip side of City’s flamboyant streak more strikingly than this as they were forced to defend in numbers as Sunderland piled on the pressure.
“It was a tough game. This is a team who are fighting relegation,” Pellegrini said of Sunderland. “It is not our style to play with nine defenders but it was our third game in a week and it was impossible to have a high pace with all our injuries. It was better to defend well and concentrate.”
Sunderland boss Sam Allardyce was left to reflect ruefully on how his pre-match warnings about Aguero being the best striker in the league was shown to be spot on as the Argentine netted his 12th league goal in his last 10 appearances.