Sunderland 1 Manchester United 2
United overcame a first half deficit to secure a vital three points against a spirited Sunderland whose threat wilted as the game went on. While it’s hard to argue that, once again, this looked anything like the Manchester United team of the past for more than a portion of this game, the way the team dug deep to get back into the game in the second half was a welcome sight, as was a match-winning performance from Adnan Januzaj, who scored both goals.
The first half was an all too familiar story this season. Sunderland made it tight in midfield and, as West Brom had done so successfully last weekend, limited United mainly to rushed passes and ragged positional play. Rooney, so often forced back in pursuit of the ball, was picked off easily by an organised home team and his threat nullified, Cattermole clearly relishing his return to a central role in the post-DiCanio era. It took only five minutes for his side to take the lead. Vidic, who had his worst game for a long time, tried to play a pass out of defence and found only Gardener who accepted the gift and comfortably fired the ball past De Gea.
It was no more than Sunderland’s first half performance warranted. Altidore offered a physical presence upfront that the United rearguard found difficult to deal with and their midfield pressed well and moved the ball forward quickly after winning possession. United were largely restricted creatively to the wide areas, where Nani and Januzaj, the latter in his first senior start, carried our only consistent threat. This was not enough to break down a disciplined and resilient Sunderland, who went into the break deserving at least their one goal lead. Indeed, it took a brilliant, and as it turned out match-winning, save from De Gea just before half-time to prevent Giaccherini doubling it.
After half-time United immediately began to look more composed in midfield and, while Sunderland continued to pose a threat on the break, it wasn’t long before the Reds drew level, Januzaj arriving in the box with a run reminiscent of a young Scholes to meet Evra’s return ball and hammer home. His second goal was even better, a left-footed volley from the corner of the area that left Westwood stranded. There’s no question we’ve got a hell of a talent on our hands here, and this performance showed again why it’s imperative we get that contract sorted out as soon as possible. It’s not too much of a leap of the imagination, though, to imagine his agent flashing a recording of his performance here – and that second goal in particular – around the large number of interested clubs around Europe.
Van Persie, who looked below par throughout, wasted a clear chance to seal the game when he shot wide of Westwood’s post with only the keeper to beat. Thankfully United didn’t live to regret the miss and saw off an aerial assault in stoppage time to secure a win that, in normal seasons, would have been seen as a near formality. Here, however, there was a clear air of relief about both the result and the rescue operation that secured it. This may be no more that a mere small step on the long road to recovery this season. It leaves United still around mid-table and that’s a fair enough reflection of how we’ve played so far this season. I’d like to think though that, when David Moyes’ long and successful tenure at United is one day looked back upon, that save from De Gea is remembered as a pivotal moment.
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