The problem with a game of football is that a narrow 1-0 defeat where your team plays well provides the same points yield as a 5-0 defeat, i.e. zero. And however well Sunderland played at Old Trafford, that is how the record boos will see it, another defeat. I sincerely hope that after 30 games of this Premiership season I will not be writing “another morale-sapping defeat”. We have lost 5 of our first 11 games this season, and desperately need to get a couple of wins under their belt to clear any anxiety at being in the bottom 6 of the best league in the world. The own goal from Wes Brown after a well-struck corner from the right at the end of the first half was enough to condemn The Lads to this reverse in an evenly-matched game.
Manchester United were strangely subdued in the first half, despite all the pre-match celebrations marking Sir Alex’s 25 years at the club. A turning point in the game happened after just a couple of minutes when Connor Wickham pulled up with what appeared to be a serious knee injury. Steve Bruce rightly looked very concerned as the 18-year old came off on a stretcher to be replaced by Ji Dong Won, who made decent fist of it upfront with Bendtner. And who could blame Bruce for being concerned as he considered what looked like the 7th serious knee problem of the last 12 months. I was at Villa in January when David Meyler came off in a similar fashion and he ha sonly just returned to first team action. Happily the post-match news was better for Wickham.
Sunderland gave as good as they got in this game and even Sir Alex admitted that they threw everything into it and played very well. There was an excellent double save from Westwood with 16 minutes of the second half left, denying Rooney first and then Evra. There was a penalty incident which attracted a lot of attention but there were several other Sunderland chances.
After the game manager Steve Bruce said "I'm never destined to get everything here [at Old Trafford]. I think I've had all my good times. For all United's great play to lose to an own goal from a set piece is disappointing. Wes Brown couldn't do much about it. I think we have the nucleus of a very good squad and we've seen signs here again. We'll keep plodding away and hopefully things will change."
Former England international Danny Mills was reporting for BBC Radio 5 live at Old Trafford and suggested: "It certainly wasn't vintage Manchester United, but Sir Alex Ferguson will say a win is a win. They weren't at their best. Sunderland were in the game but United march on, despite not looking completely convincing."
Man Utd. boss Sir Alex Ferguson: "I think there was some anxiety about our play but credit to Sunderland because they battled hard. They are going through a sticky patch but I can't see how they're going to be in trouble. Steve [Bruce] is a great manager and has done fantastically well. I didn't expect that [the presentation] today. I felt very honoured and emotional to see my name on that stand. I didn't know a thing about it."
So the craggy old Scot and his high-achieving team live to fight another day and Sunderland were left to rue what might have been. Wins in their next 2 home games would go some way to putting things right, and we have to hope for a rapid return to the team, and to form, from Wickham, who is now a key player for the team.
©Lars J.S. Knutsen