Pablo Zabaleta has admitted Manchester City have made it “difficult” to wrestle back the Premier League title.
And England defender Joleon Lescott has hit out at the lack of “appetite” City showed at the Stadium of Light.
are eighth after 11 games, six points adrift of leaders Arsenal and with a woeful record away from home, including Sunday’s .
City had high hopes of rattling their rivals this season in a wide open contest, but Zabaleta has conceded they “cannot keep a clean sheet” on their travels.
also fears that teams have worked out City away from home by denying their attacking players any space, and soaking up pressure.
He said: “There is a long way to go and we have too many games to the end, but when you lose points like that it will be really difficult to fight for the title.
“We are so disappointed. We had a great chance to reach third position and we knew before the game that Chelsea had dropped points on Saturday, and that Spurs had lost just before us.
“It was a great chance, but unfortunately we didn’t take it.
“I don’t know if it is just about our away form – when you look at the games we have played away, we have dominated all of them.
“But it is true we cannot keep a clean sheet, and when you play away you must defend much better, and try not to concede goals. It’s not happening, every time we play away.
“It was a difficult game. Sunderland played well for the first 45 minutes. They scored a goal, defended with 11 players behind the ball, and just closed the space every time.
“We had no space to create chances. It is sometimes hard to play against 11 players, but you must give them credit – they are in a tough position, fighting against relegation, so it was a very important game for them.
“We don’t care about what other teams are doing. We need to focus on what we are doing at the moment, and improve our performances away.
“When you have a defeat like this you want to play as quickly as you can, but we now go into an international break, and then we will face Spurs at home, which will be a crucial game for us.”
Lescott wants more hunger from his city team mates who were sloppy early on against Sunderland.
He said: “Overall, I don’t think we deserved to lose the game, maybe they had a bit more appetite in the first half than we showed at certain times. But we should have come out with something.
“We don’t care about what other teams are doing. We need to focus on what we are doing at the moment, and improve our performances away.”
“It was disappointing. It’s happened four years on the trot, it’s not the best place for us to come.
“I don’t know what it is about Sunderland, it’s hard to say. Normally you can put your finger on why you’ve lost a game but I don’t see that today. I don’t believe we should have lost it.”
Asked for a reason behind City’s miserable four point haul and four defeats away from home in the league, Lescott said: “It’s hard to say, it’s not like we feel any different going into the game. Obviously the atmosphere and surroundings are a lot different.
“But every team has to play away and at the minute we can’t put it all together and go on a run away from home. We’ve won an odd one here and there and one in the league cup, but it’s too stop-start but we need to knuckle down now and pick up some points.”