The champions did not have it all their own way in the first half and were made to come from behind after Connor Wickham deflected Pablo Zabaleta’s tackle beyond Joe Hart to hand the hosts a 19th-minute lead.
Sergio Aguero again proved to be the inspirational figure for City, by firing home the equaliser in emphatic style within a matter of minutes before setting up Stevan Jovetic for the visitors’ second five minutes before half-time.
Zabaleta’s nonchalant chip beyond Costel Pantilimon in the Sunderland goal 10 minutes after the interval, followed by Aguero’s second 15 minutes later, sealed the three points for Manuel Pellegrini’s side who stay six points behind Chelsea at the top of the table.
City looked like they meant business from the start with Jesus Navas sending in a cross which eluded Aguero’s outstretched boot by inches with less than four minutes on the clock.
Unfazed by their opponents’ dominance in the opening exchanges, Sunderland had the first real opening of the match. Will Buckley, who deputised for former City winger Adam Johnson, ran into space on the right and crossed for Jack Rodwell whose shot was blocked by Zabaleta in the City box – the former City man would have been disappointed with his tame effort.
Sunderland then grabbed a shock lead in the 19th minute when Sebastian Larsson threaded the ball towards Wickham and despite Zabaleta getting his foot on the ball first, he could only deflect it into the net off the striker.
Sunderland’s celebrations lasted just a matter of minutes as City went in search of an immediate equaliser – and their top scorer Aguero duly obliged.
Fernandinho exchanged passes with Yaya Toure and the Brazilian midfielder played it back to Aguero who, after collecting the ball and nutmegging the on-rushing Sebastian Coates, unleashed a fierce strike which nestled in the back of Pantilimon’s net before he had a chance to adjust his footing.
The goal handed City an air of confidence with Toure orchestrating the game for large spells – and his incisive through-ball to Aguero on the edge of the box led to City’s second.
After a 29-pass move, the Argentine played a neat flick into the path of Jovetic – who gratefully drilled his side’s second under Pantilimon from close range.
Sunderland were struggling to create much in the City half but they still came close in first-half injury-time when a Larsson corner found the head of Rodwell. In the resulting melee the hosts had a penalty shout for handball against Fernandinho turned down.
City were in cruise control at the start of the second half, and after 10 minutes in which they passed the ball exquisitely, they extended their lead with another well-worked goal in the 55th minute.
Samir Nasi picked up a short pass on the right side of the Sunderland box and fed Zabaleta, who produced a deft little chip to defy the onrushing John O’Shea and beat Pantilimon to put City 3-1 up.
The hosts were given more of an opportunity to string together some moves as the away side sat back, but the City rearguard, which had shown signs of weakness in the early stages, coped with each effort comfortably.
And Aguero wrapped up a sensational individual performance in the 71st minute when he was picked out by City substitute James Milner and turned to coax the ball past Pantilimon to round off the game and finally end their sorry run of four consecutive 1-0 defeats at the Stadium of Light.
City cemented their position as Chelsea’s main title rivals, while Sunderland failed to capitalise on Saturday’s positive result against Chelsea and remain 14th in the table.
Neil Mellor’s verdict
“I was really impressed with the performance overall, but it was a shaky start from City. Sunderland started better and got in their faces, but by the end of the game the confidence was flying for City. If Aguero is fit then you would fancy City to give anyone a game. You want that little bit of magic in the final third and City have got that with Aguero. He is superb.”
Sunderland: Pantilimon (5), Vergini (4), O’Shea (5), Coates (5), Reveillere (4), Cattermole (6), Wickham (5), Larsson (7), Rodwell (5), Buckley (6), Fletcher (5).
Used subs: Alvarez (5), Altidore (5).
Man City: Hart (6), Zabaleta (7), Boyata (7), Demichelis (6), Clichy (6), Navas (5), Toure (6), Fernandinho (5), Jovetic (6), Nasri (6), Aguero (8).
Used subs: Milner (5), Lampard (4), Pozo (3).
Man of the Match: Sergio Aguero