|photo by oseillo||via PhotoRee|
Manchester United defeated a dour and dejected Sunderland side in Saturday's early kick off, 1-0, to maintain their 15 point advantage over second place City. Never really threatened, the Red Devils cantered to victory, with the final score belying the ease of the away side's win. Riding a Sunderland own goal to an early lead, United tidily avenged their perceived slight from the Sunderland fans in last season's finale.
If the crowd ended the game dejected, they had begun it in a considerably different mood, with bright sunshine greeting both teams as they walked onto the pitch at the aptly named Stadium of Light. Although United had the game's first efforts on target, it was the home side who carried a fair bit of the early pressure, in large part due to mental mistakes from the visitors. Both teams attacked in the early going, with Sunderland pressuring the ball high up the pitch -- a strategy that worked well when going forward but increasingly left the home side exposed at the back.
After their sloppy opening it was the Red Devils who looked the brighter of the two sides -- passing the ball with authority and creating multiple openings in the Black Cats' defense. It was just past the 25 minute mark when the continual pressure finally paid off -- in the form of a Robin Van Persie ball that ended up in the back of the net. Although claimed by the Dutchman, it's unlikely that the Dubious Goals Panel will fail to notice the double deflection that ended with Titus Bramble beating his own 'keeper for the game's opening score.
Jonny Evans replaced an injured Rafael at the game's half hour mark -- the Brazilian fullback having tweaked his groin -- as United's recent embarrassment of riches at the back were reduced by one. Fifteen minutes later, a quiet half ended with both sides marginally disappointed -- the home side for having failed to test United's goal, and the visitors for not having done more with the opportunities they were presented.