Manchester City picked up only their second win in their last seven games as they beat Sunderland 3-0 in the early kick-off on Saturday.
Sunderland were the only team City failed to beat on their way to the Premier League title last season and were defending an unbeaten record this season. But when Simon Mignolet failed to keep out Aleksandar Kolarov's free-kick just five minutes into the contest, there proved no way back for the Black Cats with second-half goals from Sergio Aguero and James Milner sealing the win.
Roberto Mancini made seven changes to the City side that were outplayed by Borussia Dortmund in the UEFA Champions League in midweek. Most notably there was no Vincent Kompany at the back, while Aguero was rested in attack.
Martin O'Neill made just one change to the side that beat Wigan last weekend with Carlos Cuellar coming in at the heart of the defence to replace Titus Bramble. Craig Gardner continued to deputise at right-back for the injured Phil Bardsley.
City have dabbled with three at the back at some curious times this season but it was a return to a back-four for the visit of Sunderland. The midfield was flexible with Gareth Barry and James Milner generally holding while David Silva and skipper Yaya Toure took up interesting positions between the lines in order to support Mario Balotelli and Carlos Tevez.
Sunderland played two fairly regimented lines of four with Stephane Sessegnon trying to support Steven Fletcher in attack. Fletcher cut an isolated figure at times and it is no surprise he remains the only player to score for his team in the Premier League this season - it was a rare sight for a midfielder to run beyond him, especially before the interval.
Mancini brought on Aguero for the misfiring Balotelli early in the second half and his superior movement brought immediate rewards as he stole a yard on his marker to turn home Kolarov's cross at the near post. Gael Clichy and Jack Rodwell then came on for the impressive Carlos Tevez and David Silva with a few minutes remaining.
O'Neill made a positive change as soon as the second goal went in, bringing David Vaughan on for Danny Rose and moving Colback to left-back. Another ambitious substitution followed when Louis Saha was introduced for Adam Johnson who endured a fruitless afternoon against his former club. Fraizer Campbell then replaced Sessegnon late on but it was all to no avail.
The home fans were unhappy with some of the treatment dished out to Balotelli in the first half but that was more likely to be as a result of fears he would retaliate rather than any dissatisfaction with the actions of Lee Probert. It was about as comfortable an afternoon as the referee could have expected.
Mancini will be grateful to have seen his side manage their first clean sheet of the season in all competitions - especially given the absence of Kompany. The champions are well aware that the visitors are capable of causing real problems and this was a hard-earned victory that takes them into the international break on a positive note after their European struggles.
A first defeat of the campaign away to the Premier League champions is hardly cause for panic but Sunderland supporters may well suspect their team could be a little short of inspiration this season. In Fletcher they have a striker reliant on service but if Sessegnon is not on form and the midfield are not given license to roam forward then that may prove a heavy burden. Even so, there is every reason for optimism going into the next game - the derby at home to Newcastle in a fortnight's time.