Frank Lampard proves why he is indispensable at Manchester City

English midfielder scores the winner for the reigning Premier League champions to underline his credentials at the club, writes Richard Jolly.

Frank Lampard, second from left, celebrates with his Manchester City teammates after scoring the winning goal during their Premier League match against Sunderland at Etihad Stadium in Manchester on Thursday. David Richards / EPA
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Manchester City 3

Toure 57’, Jovetic 66’, Lampard 73’

Sunderland 2

Rodwell 68’, Johnson 71’ (pen)

Man of the match Yaya Toure (Man City)

MANCHESTER // With little more than three hours of 2014 remaining, Frank Lampard was not available to face Sunderland.

He lingered in limbo, waiting to see and hear if five-party talks could reach a satisfactory and dramatic conclusion.

They did and Lampard provided a similarly, and suitably, memorable ending to his first game of 2015.

Having agreed a contract to stay at Manchester City until the end of the season, he illustrated why Manuel Pellegrini was adamant he needed the veteran for the whole campaign.

Sunderland, a regular scourge of City, had come from two goals down to draw level.

Then Lampard, the man who would have been ineligible, showed why he has become ­indispensable.

Gael Clichy crossed and his was a finisher’s finish, a header that was perfectly weighted and angled, redirecting the ball past the former City goalkeeper Costel Pantilimon.

Among other things, it was Lampard’s 176th Premier League goal, taking him above arguably the division’s greatest player, Thierry Henry, in its all-time scoring charts.

More pertinently, it was another goal that could reshape the title race.

He had scored one when he levelled against his former club Chelsea in September.

Then, too, he came off the bench to exert an influence.

A player who went on a record-breaking run of starting games for Chelsea has been reinvented as City’s impact ­substitute.

“It is very important he will stay here,” Pellegrini said.

Lampard’s new deal involved the player himself, City, New York City, who he will join in the summer, the Premier League and Major League Soccer.

“I think the best decision for us, the club and New York is for him to stay,” Pellegrini said, although others did not agree.

It is a move that has sparked protests on the other side of the Atlantic but the Chilean said: “I understand maybe the New York fans want to see Frank playing because that is an amazing thing.”

Lampard will acquire an added importance from Monday, when Yaya Toure heads off to the African Cup of Nations.

The Ivorian bade farewell to the division for up to six weeks in suitable style, with a goal that was struck with ferocious power and uncanny accuracy.

“He always does something incredible against us,” Sunderland manager Gus Poyet said.

Having scored one spectacular goal against the Black Cats in last season’s League Cup final, he recorded another.

Toure’s long-range shot kept on rising until it nestled in the net.

It was his sixth goal in eight games and his early-season dip in form is very much in the past. Toure was a marauding presence, showing a willingness to run at the massed ranks of the Sunderland defence who, for 56 minutes, seemed intent on securing their seventh stalemate of the season.

The final scoreline made a mockery of their stout resistance at the start.

“The idea was to frustrate City,” Poyet said.

Individual inspiration ensured the plan failed.

It may get obscured by goals that fit the narrative of the day rather better, but Stevan Jovetic’s strike was delightful in its own right.

Clichy was once again the instigator. Found by Toure, the Frenchman crossed. The Montenegrin finished with a brilliant back-heel flick, made the more impressive by the fact it came with his less favoured left foot.

There was scarcely time to reflect as an utterly uneventful first half gave way to an extraordinary second that brought five goals in 16 minutes.

City gave away a two-goal lead against Burnley on Sunday. Four days later, and before Lampard secured a different ending, history repeated itself.

Indeed, spice was added to the plot by the identity of Sunderland’s scorers.

Both were ex-City players who left the Etihad Stadium in search of first-team football.

First Jack Rodwell headed in Sebastian Larsson’s corner. Then, after Billy Jones was tripped by Pablo Zabaleta, Adam Johnson converted the resulting penalty.

But once the former City players had scored, the new recruit, who doubles up as a golden oldie, ensured their goals counted for naught.

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