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Martin O’Neill worked his magic as Sunderland scrapped for their lives before stunning leaders Manchester City as a breakaway goal from Ji Dong-Won gave the relegation battlers an unlikely 1-0 victory.

It made it 10 points from 15 for Sunderland since O’Neill replaced Steve Bruce and left City hurting after a second defeat of the season and second blank in succession.

Roberto Mancini’s men remain top, but level on points with Manchester United as they failed to make the most of their neighbours’ own shock defeat to Blackburn 24 hours earlier.

While City stutter, there has been a spring in Sunderland’s step since the arrival of O’Neill a month ago. And spirits would have soared even more had Nicklas Bendtner showed a bit more composure. City were caught dozing at the back as the Dane latched onto a glorious pass from Stephane Sessegnon, rounded Joe Hart but then saw his effort blocked by the keeper.

The determination in both defences, particularly the home side, was to be admired, but there were no shortage of opportunities. Edin Dzeko, in particular, will wonder how he did not add to his 13-goal tally for the campaign in a three-minute spell that was crucial to the outcome.

The big Bosnian was denied by a brave block from Simon Mignolet in the 32nd minute after Adam Johnson’s low shot ricocheted into the path of Dzeko. From that, Johnson set up Samir Nasri, whose shot was cleared off the line by Craig Gardner although it might have been going wide. Dzeko then thumped a half-volley against the bar after more City pressure.

Mancini turned to subs Sergio Aguero and David Silva at the start of the second half to break down the Black Cats barrier and it was not before time. City stepped up a gear, turned on the style but still could not find a way through.

Apart from a scare when Sessegnon turned Vincent Kompany and poked a shot wide with the outside of his right foot, it was the visitors who were dominant.

Dzeko continued to be a threat but there was no reward for his endeavour. His efforts rained on Mignolet’s goal. Shots went too high, headers too wide and he was then crowded out after a barnstorming run to the box.

Mignolet blocked from Aguero before saving his best for last as City pressed in a furious finale. Silva let fly from 20 yards, but Mignolet beat out the strike and then watched fortunately as Micah Richards stooped to send a header into the ground and against the bar.

Sunderland might have been on the ropes, but it was they who delivered the knockout blow. A quick break saw Ji exchange passes with Sessegnon and, while he was just offside, the South Korean calmly rounded Hart to slip the ball into the net.