On the eve of the 25th anniversary of Sir Alex Ferguson taking over at the club, United welcomed Sunderland to Old Trafford for a game which would ultimately be remembered for off field events rather than those on the field. Prior to kick off, Sir Alex’s big day was marked in grand style with a guard of honour from both sides, and the surprise news that the North stand would be renamed the Sir Alex Ferguson Stand in recognition of arguably the greatest British manager of all time. With the festivities over, United got down to business with the small matter of the match, as the reds looked to pick up from their excellent victory at Everton the previous week. With defensive frailties dogging United in the early season, it was a welcome relief to see Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic partner each other in the heart of defence, hopefully to provide consistency during the busy spell of fixtures on the horizon.
Typically, the scrutiny on the pre match festivities had an effect on the quality of the game, as neither side were really able to focus on the task at hand. Matters weren’t helped when after two minutes, young Sunderland striker Connor Whickham was stretchered off with a serious looking knee injury, adding to the peculiar nature of the afternoon so far. With Sunderland well organised and disciplined, United laboured in the first half, creating very little in the way of clear opportunities, and failing to work young Sunderland keeper Kieron Westwood. As a dull half drew to a close, out of nowhere United were handed a fortuitous lead via a Brown own goal, with the ex United defender diverting Danny Welbeck’s flick on into his own net, giving the reds the perfect boost to go into half time.
Having finally broken the deadlock, United came out with greater purpose in the second half and created several opportunities to put the game to bed. Nani began to come to life after an indifferent first half performance, and his cross found Javier Hernandez, who’s clever header was brilliantly cleared off the line as the reds ratcheted up the pressure. Just as United were in the ascendancy however, they were dealt a hammer blow as the referee’s assistant deemed Nemanja Vidic had handled Sebastian Larsson’s cross and awarded the visitors a penalty much to the bemusement of a stunned Old Trafford. After consultation with his linesman however, referee Lee Mason overturned the decision, instead awarding a United free kick, which replay’s confirmed was the correct call.
Having been offered a reprieve, United continued to assert their dominance, without finding an end product. A tense 15 minutes was ensured as firstly Wayne Rooney, and then Patrice Evra were fantastically denied by Westwood in the Sunderland goal, keeping the visitors in with a sniff of spoiling the United party. However, with United’s more recent impermeability at the back, there was to be no late drama on a day where victory was essential, given other results around the league. Even by Ferguson’s own admission, United were affected by the occasion and failed to fully play to their full potential, with a chance to refresh the batteries however due to the international break, the reds find themselves in a good position to put together a winning run and really put the pressure on league leaders Manchester City.
Lindegaard – 6 Did what little he had to do with minimum fuss.
Jones – 7 Defensively improved and constantly bombing forward. Good work led to opening goal.
Ferdinand – 7 Assured with Vidic back as partner.
Vidic – 7 Combative and dominant.
Evra – 7 Attacking threat, unlucky not to score.
Nani – 6 Infuriated first half, improved second.
Fletcher – 6 Drove the team forward well second half.
Park – 7 Industrious and sensible in posession.
Welbeck – 6 Header led to the opening goal.
Rooney – 7 MOTM Fine display of passing, needs to be back up front.
Hernandez – 5 Poor afternoon from the Mexican.
Berbatov – 5 Dissapointing cameo.
Carrick – 6 Provided fine cover for the defence.