|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.
The second half opened in the same way the first began: with Sunderland pressuring the ball and looking to harry the opposition when the visitors were in possession. Once again, though, it was the away side that settled first, controlling an astounding 80% of the ball through the first ten minutes.
Manchester hearts grew fearful near the hour mark when 'keeper David De Gea collided on a rare Sunderland corner kick with an unmoveable object -- central defender Nemanja Vidic. Both players look damaged by the outcome -- the Serbian bleeding from the mouth and the Spaniard looking dazed and confused. If United were spitting blood, however, it was the Black Cats smelling it and responding with their best pressure of the game to date.
The drop in performance brought Sir Alex off the bench to show his disapproval, although with 15 minutes left the Black Cats still found themselves on the short end of the score -- no doubt due to the fact they had zero shots on target to that point in the match, despite their redoubled efforts.
The managers swapped replacements with just under ten minutes left to play: Danny Welbeck on for Shinji Kagawa and Seb Larson on for Phil Bardsley, although it was the tiring Alexander Buttner who generated the first real shot in quite some time and caused Sebastian Mignolet to tip the ball around the post.
Anderson was replaced by Tom Cleverley on 84 minutes as the United crowd celebrated. Having thought they were Champions when they narrowly won here -- if only for ever so briefly -- this time around they knew it: another slim victory momentarily stretching the lead over City to an impressive 18 points.
Although Connor Wickham ensured that the home side didn't remain without a shot, the effort changed nothing -- United with another shutout, and Sunderland still searching for answers near the bottom of the table.
This is farlieonfootie for March 31.
This is farlieonfootie for March 31.