Sunderland boss Martin O’Neill rued a penalty decision that went against his side in their 3-3 Premier League draw with Manchester City.
O’Neill’s men were on course for a memorable win when they led 3-1 with 10 minutes remaining at Eastlands, but two late City goals denied them all three points.
But it was City’s opening goal, a Mario Balotelli penalty in the first half, that O’Neill felt cost his side victory, with the Northern Irishman claiming the spot kick should have never been awarded after Craig Gardner allegedly felled the Italian striker.
“I thought that genuinely that the referee was going to book their player (Balotelli) for diving, but I should have known better,” O’Neill told reporters.
“Referees have a really difficult job, but I spoke to the referee in the tunnel just at the end and he said it was a penalty.
“I don’t think it was and I think the replays will show that and really disappointing obviously, it’s a major blow to us just a couple of minutes before half-time.
“But, it shouldn’t detract from our performance. I thought we played brilliantly today and obviously disappointed to have dropped some points.”
City were far from dominant and Sunderland’s proficiency in front of goal meant they looked set to be the first team to beat Roberto Mancini’s side at home this season.
O’Neill was pleased his side managed to thwart City’s dominance in their home surrounds.
“They (City) have won 15 consecutive games here, we’re the first team to take some points off them and they’re second in the league,” O’Neill said.
“So they’re a very, very good team and they’ve got so many match winners and if you ask me now I think we got a little bit tired obviously.”
Despite the result denting City’s title hopes, Mancini remained upbeat about his side’s chances of catching leaders Manchester United, who can extend their advantage to five points with victory over Blackburn on Monday.
Mancini was optimistic when asked about Blackburn’s hopes of causing an upset at Ewood Park.
“They can do a draw on Monday, why not?” the Italian told Sky Sports.
“Are we still in the title race? I think so because eight games is enough to do two draws.
“It’s normal. Until we have a point to win this league we will try until the end. I’m sure that we will do better (against Arsenal next week) than today.”
Turning his attention to Saturday’s draw, City’s brave fightback was not enough to earn plaudits from their Mancini, who was not impressed by his side’s performance.
“It was a crazy game, a very emotional game,” Mancini said.
“We didn’t play well but we have a chance again. It was very important to play well but we didn’t. We defended very badly. We made mistakes. I’m not happy with our performance.
“It was important in the end to score two goals and take one point. We have seven games left and we want to do everything (to win the title).”