A spirited Sunderland display went unrewarded as Manchester City overpowered the Black Cats at the Stadium of Light.
Pep Guardiola’s side were second best during the opening exchanges but a tactical tweak midway through the first-half yielded the opener, as Sergio Aguero’s deft finish completed a sweeping move engineered by Yaya Toure.
Undeterred, the Black Cats regrouped at the break and once again tested their counterparts, but a moment of magic from Leroy Sane gave them a mountain to climb before the hour mark.
Any hopes of a grandstand finale were dashed late on as Defoe saw a header correctly ruled out for offside, but despite defeat there were positives to take on an encouraging afternoon at the SoL.
David Moyes named an unchanged side ahead of the game – something he’d never done before during his time on Wearside in the PL – with Jordan Pickford retaining his place despite the return of Vito Mannone.
During the pre-match build-up, much was made of City’s so-called vulnerability at the back, and after watching Guardiola’s men against Monaco, Moyes sent his side on the offensive.
The Black Cats pressed hard and fast with the Citizens unable to play out from the back, and it yielded an early chance as Billy Jones dashed to the byline and almost picked out Jermain Defoe at the near post.
Like many around him, Fabio Borini was superb during the opening exchanges and the Italian epitomised Sunderland’s desire and work ethic.
But when that golden chance came along, the Italian’s composure deserted him.
Enterprising play from Moyes’ men sliced open the City defence and when the space opened up Defoe let fly, with the top scorer’s effort crashing against the base of the post before falling into the path of Borini.
The goal was gaping and Willy Caballero had checked into no man’s land, but the Italian headed way, way wide.
A testing passage of play followed as City camped in the final third and started to turn the screw.
Raheem Sterling and Sane hugged the touchline offering width and unnerving pace, with Guardiola pushing Toure into an advanced position in an attempt to unsettle the resolute Black Cats.
And it proved to be a tactical masterstroke.
Two chances fell to Jones in the build-up, but when Toure powered through the gears and dragged City forward the writing was on the wall.
Silva picked up where the Ivorian left off, feeding the ball wide to Sterling who fired a ball into the near post, and Aguero – who else – finished with aplomb to open the scoring.
It could have got worse for Sunderland as a Silva strike was ruled out for offside, but instead the Black Cats exited the field to applause and, above all else, hope.
The game continued in a similar way following the restart with the Black Cats on top and undeterred despite falling behind, with Jones and Januzaj’s blossoming partnership down the right continuing to breed success.
Ndong also pushed into a far more advanced role and the Gabon international picked up some good positions, but on both occasions he failed to stay onside.
City, meanwhile, opted to sit deep and break in numbers as they searched for a decisive second, with Silva forcing Pickford into a big save as the hour mark approached.
But moments later the England international was but a spectator as Sane stole the show.
The German timed his run to perfection before slamming on the afterburners and breezing past Jones, with a fine move ending with a sublime finish as the ball crashed off the post and into the net.
Another blow followed as Darron Gibson was forced off, but it did little to dampen Sunderland’s spirit as the tireless Black Cats continued to search for a reward their persistence deserved.
With 83 minutes played it seemingly arrived as Defoe flicked Kone’s header into the net, but the offside flag dashed hopes of a late comeback as City secured three points on Wearside.
Sunderland: Pickford, Jones, Oviedo, Kone, O’Shea, Gibson (Rodwell 70), Larsson, Ndong, Borini, Januzaj (Khazri 81), Defoe.
Substitutes: Mannone, Manquillo, Djilobodji, Honeyman, Love.
Manchester City: Caballero, Sagna, Kolarov, Stones, Clichy, Fernandinho, Toure (De Bruyne 76), Sterling (Nolito 81), Sane (Delph 89), Aguero.
Subs not used: Bravo, Fernando, Otamendi, Iheanacho.